Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Guided Tour of No Code: Habit

[A Guided Tour of No Code]

There are a few songs on No Code that feel out of place to me. Habit is one. It’s not that it is a bad song. It’s just that it doesn’t fit. This is a record about accepting limitations---your own and others. It urges you to make peace with yourself and the world . It’s not that it says don’t fight, or refuse to change. But it reminds you that crashing headfirst into barriers you can’t change is exhausting, and probably counterproductive. Which is exactly what Habit is about. So unless Habit is meant to be a step back--a reminder of what hasn’t worked--I’m not sure why it is here. Perhaps that is why Eddie sings the way he does. You scream the way he screams when you aren’t interested in dialogue. Maybe he is trying to drown this song out (the message, anyway).

The riff is heavy, brash, almost petulant. It’s one of the better punk riffs, and is an excellent platform for a self righteous and extremely judgmental set of lyrics (alongside a grating chorus), and a vocal performance that shrieks itself hoarse, and almost entirely abandons the empathy that defines Eddie’s best (and average work) for something that is frankly just a little obnoxious. Digster noted earlier that Eddie rarely screams on this record, and it is telling that the places where he does are also the songs that are most at odds with the album itself.

Basically Habit is the musical equivalent of the first time a newly minted atheist reads Bertrand Russell’s ‘Why I Am Not A Christian’ This is not a song about being happy with your righteous self. It is a song about judging those who have the audacity not to copy your righteousness. 

Save You, in a lot of ways, is probably the song that Habit should have been, at least in the context of this album. Save You has the same singer confronting weakness, but the frustration in that song is from vulnerability that comes from investing yourself in someone else’s life and the fear that it’s all for nothing. Habit is its narcissistic cousin, for whom weakness in others becomes a way to revel in your own reflected strength.

All of this makes the ‘speaking as a child of the 90s’ lyric particularly obnoxious. It’s not a good line to begin with (forgivable perhaps, for the Against the 70s call back), but if you are going to peg yourself as a spokeschild for the 90s there were better songs with better messages to do that with. It could just be tongue in cheek, but if it is I’m not sure what the song is satirizing. Maybe the earnestness of the times? That’s a possibility, but if so it’s also maybe a bit out of place on what is an understated but still extremely earnest album.

The ending outro, which is a great piece of music and the highlight of the song, simply reinforces the lack of empathy and moral complexity in the song itself. It is loud, violent, cacophonous, but oddly self serving. It draws no conclusions. It offers no new directions. It’s a musical affirmation of an angry and judgmental superiority

Red Mosquito
Present Tense
I'm Open
Around the Bend

No Code 
Riot Act 
Pearl Jam