Monday, September 30, 2013

Ed Throwing Hatchets As He Lets The Records Play

We first got a glimpse of Ed's hatchet throwing in the Backspacer promo videos.  Today we get another glimpse of Ed's ... um, peculiar ... hobby and a first listen of Let The Records Play.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Big Day Out Cancels Second Sydney Show

Sadly, our Australian fans are losing a Pearl Jam show this week as Big Day Out organizer, Ken West, announced that the second Sydney date is being cancelled and merged into the first.
In a press release sent out this morning, Big Day Out promoter Ken West said, “Perhaps we were a bit ambitious expanding to two dates in Sydney for this year’s Big Day Out…” Tickets for the Monday January 27 festival will be valid for the Sunday 26 show, with no need to exchange tickets; punters who can’t attend on Sunday 26 can get a refund until October 30.
Click here for information on what to do if you purchased ticket.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lightning Bolt EPK by Danny Clinch

Pearl Jam released an nine-minute EPK today that they're calling a Lightning Bolt, a short film by Danny Clinch.  It features imagery by Andy Smetanka that you'll recognize from the Mind Your Manners video and the band being interviewed by Judd Apatow, Carrie Brownstein, Mark Richards, Steve Gleason, and Danny, himself.  It also features clips from Mind Your Manners, Sirens, Lightning Bolt, Future Days, and Getaway.

Ed Talks Lightning Bolt, Aging, and the VMAs

No, that's not the cover of the U.S. Rolling Stone featuring an interview with Eddie Vedder.  It's the Italian (???) Rolling Stone, nor is it the November issue featuring a review of Lightning Bolt (4 stars), but if you're really dying to see more of Miley Cyrus ... I don't know how to end that sentence because there is no way anyone is dying to see more of Miley Cyrus (even Ed, see below).  

But ... back to Ed.  Eddie sat down with Brian Hiatt of Rolling Stone for an interview in their October 10th issue.  He talks about Lightning Bolt and MTV.  I don't know who to thank for the transcription, but thanks nonetheless.

Eddie Vedder is really trying to take better care of himself. “I quit drinking and smoking all the time,” he says with a laugh. “I’m currently not drinking – because it’s 11:00 in the morning.” Sober or not, Vedder sounds pretty riled for a 48-year-old father of two on Pearl Jam’s 10th album, Lightning Bolt, which ranges from Vitalogy-style punkiness to unabashed balladry. “We’ve got a situation in the band,” says Vedder, “where, hopefully, we can explore the possibilities of the whole spectrum.”

Given all the time between records, and all the band members’ side projects, is Pearl Jam itself now a side project for you guys?

I could see, perhaps, where that assumption is made. But we’re more of a group than ever, and the space in between is healthy. It’s a big part of everybody’s life, to be playing music, at all times. And at the same time, it’s important to us to be part of our families, to not be absent fathers.
Also, actually putting out the record is a little bit of a shock to the system. That’s what we remember as being traumatic. Probably, when you take longer between records, there’s more importance placed on the records. Maybe the next thing you do is put out another one in the next year – just put it out, and not have a buildup.

Are you still trying to make the greatest Pearl Jam record ever?

I say this in the least-competitive way possible, but we’re trying to make not just the best Pearl Jam record, but just the best record. It’s about getting to the next level of communication, or just trying to crack a code into some higher phase of playing music. Because when we’re making a record, I’m more of a listener than a player. That whole time, you’re staying in this weird, objective place, like you’re writing from a hot-air balloon, looking at the landscape and trying to zero in. You’re trying to create a giant crop circle, and that’s the mystery behind it. Like, how would you make that if you were on the ground?

The new record has a lot of lyrics about mortality.

They say to write what you know, I think that’s maybe one thing that we all know [laughs]. It’s living while you’re alive, and living to the day you die, and being cognizant of the end, and you might lead a more appreciative life, if that’s part of your approach.

I thought maybe you were just getting old.

Yeah. Well, no! I’m probably in better shape than in many, many years. But, you know, they say that your kids make you young – I say they’ll make you tired, trying to keep up with them. I used to think getting through adolescence was going to be the hard part. It’s watching other people get old, dealing with other people’s mortality. A lot of us live in denial, given how we treat our bodies. So to extend it, you start treating yourself a little better.

You hurt some nerves in your back that affected your hand last year, and you had to cancel some dates. Is that related to this revelation?

That was a major inconvenience that, when I look back, was really minor. But, you know, in the middle of it, I didn’t know if I would play guitar again. I could picture sitting there with [guitarists] Mike [McCready] or Stone [Gossard] calling out chords. “No, go to a B-minor! Go to a B-minor-7!”

The new song “Infallible” seems to be about American decline, questioning whether we’re really progressing as a culture.

Well, I wouldn’t want to limit it to just our country [laughs]. But if you’re a casting director, you’d say, “Well, wow, this country certainly fits the part.” You know, we legalized gay marriage in the state of Washington at the same time we legalized pot, and it was a great reason to celebrate! But then, the Supreme Court made it more difficult for minorities and less fortunate people on the economic scale to vote. That was a huge step backward. We could’ve made two big strides forward. Instead, we’re just, you know, prone, doing the splits.

With the solo ukulele record you put out in 2011, and Pearl Jam's hit "Just Breathe," it seems like you've opened the door for a bit of, not softness, but...

Sentimentality. For years, it was playing word games and expressing those emotions, but doing it in such a way that was cryptic and where Mark Arm from Mudhoney would still have some modicum of respect for me. But nowadays, it's more like sitting down and writing a song, and whatever comes out, comes out.

The new album also has the power ballad "Sirens," which sounds big - dare I say "commercial"?

You've already said it! You want to say something else? You want me to double-dare you? [Laughs] You know, a lot of these songs were written in the middle of the night, and you're the only one awake, it seems, for miles. There’s no one criticizing what you’re writing.

On another note, there's no doubt that rock isn't the cultural force it once was.

Oh, so you saw the MTV awards.

Wait, you saw the MTV awards?

I was able to fast-forward through them, yes.

I take it you're not into much new pop music, then.

These pop songs almost feel like tabloid journalism, in a way. It's crap that people seem to like. And I don't know if it has meaning. I don't know if one of the pop songs of the summer has any fiber in it. People are consuming it, and is it healthy? I don't know. Maybe it's some kind of way of taking themselves away from their problems. Maybe there's some healthy property or some restorative property that I'm not receiving. It seems like it has a really high fructose content.

As unpleasant as it often was for Pearl Jam back in the Nineties, shouldn't more good young rock bands be shooting for the pop charts?

Bono talked a lot about, you know, “We can't let rock & roll become a niche.” I thought, “Well, that's kind of crazy. I have more faith in it than that.” But I can definitely see his point. When there’s a pop song that seems a little bit better than others, it's usually one that has some real guitar, real drums in it. I still feel like the best stuff has natural elements.

You're about the same age now that Neil Young was when he made Harvest Moon In 1992. Does that feel right?

No, I’ll always be younger than that. Just on achievement levels alone.

Can you imagine pushing into your seventies, like the Stones and Paul McCartney?

It’s actually really rare. The more you look at it, you realize how rare it is, and how difficult it is. I first saw the Stones in 1981, and at that point they were elder statesmen. But we’re lucky to see these old poets being able to read their work in their own voice, you know? I mean, they came from the same generation that said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” It reminds you to be open to the possibilities.

Pearl Jam Coming to the Late Show with David Letterman, October 8th

We can't recreate the results, but someone at PJBugs caught a screen capture of TV Guide showing Pearl Jam as the musical guest for the Late Show with David Letterman on October 8th.  Set your DVRs for 11:35pm ET.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Stone Gossard Vignette with Infallible

Pearl Jam's latest vignette includes Stone creating some charcoal art over the sounds of Infallible. It's our first listen to that song, so it's an exciting day when we get new art AND new music.

Pearl Jam Twenty Returning to Theaters

Pearl Jam has announced that their documentary, Pearl Jam Twenty, will be returning to theaters in limited release with exclusive, Lightning Bolt material and performances.  Scheduled screenings (which roughly coincide with concert dates) are below, but the Ten Club also gives instructions for requesting a screening for your area, even if it's not scheduled.
Pearl Jam is teaming up with Gathr to bring Pearl Jam Twenty to theaters in select cities in the U.S.

Experience Pearl Jam Twenty in a theater. Watch it again or view it for the first time if you missed the original theatrical release. At these select screenings, before the original film, Pearl Jam will bring you a special feature that includes interviews and live performances of songs from their forthcoming album Lightning Bolt.

Also with your ticket purchase Pearl Jam and Gathr will send you a free digital bootleg download from a select show after the 2013 North American Tour.

(for more details visit

  • Pittsburgh,PA - October 10
  • Buffalo,NY - October 10
  • Millbury,MA - October 14
  • Brooklyn,NY - October 15
  • Philadelphia,PA - October 17
  • West Hartford,CT - October 23
  • Baltimore,MD - October 24
  • Charlotte,NC - October 24
  • Dallas,TX - November 13
  • Oklahoma City,OK - November 14
  • Phoenix,AZ - November 14
  • San Diego,CA - November 20
  • Beverly Hills,CA - November 21
  • Oakland,CA - November 21
  • Portland,OR - November 27

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ed Onstage with X

Yeah, yeah ... we're not strangers with Ed stepping on stage with X when they open for Pearl Jam, but this week, Ed made an appearance at X's Marymoor Park show with Blondie.

Ed helped out with Devil Doll and The New World.  You can read more about the show here, and if anyone know where we can find YouTube videos, Pearl Jam's fan community would thank you for commenting below.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Guided Tour of No Code: Around the Bend

[A Guided Tour of No Code]

Although songs like In My Tree, Present Tense, and Sometimes may feel like they are the core of the album--the key moments with the take away insights, I think it is probably Hail Hail, Smile, and Around the Bend where we learn the most important lessons, and where our ability to make peace with imperfection while striving for something better is showcased best. As is almost always the case with Pearl Jam’s music, salvation is found through other people, leraning to open yourself up to them, accepting their imperfections, and letting them heal you. They make us whole. Oddly enough, for a band that doesn’t write too many love songs, almost every Pearl Jam song is, at base, a love song--a celebration of or longing for it.

Around the Bend is no different, and offers the clearest insight into what gets let in during I’m Open. If I’m Open looks for a way for an adult to recapture the magic the world strips away from us, Around the Bend tells us we can most easily rediscover it within family, within the people we love enough to make ourselves open to, vulnerable--the people who come to mean more to us then we mean to ourselves. Forgiving yourself for your transgressions, the peace you can make with yourself, doesn’t make the world magic for you, but it lets you find magic in other people, and perhaps see the magic in yourself reflected in them.

This was a song that took me a long time to come around to--probably not until I had a child. I have an appreciation for the gentle peacefulness, the longing for it, the awareness of its fragility, the way the music captures the way time freezes a particular moment and keeps you there even though the rest of the world is still moving past. How each day lasts forever and passes so quickly. Most of the time you’re aware only of the grind, but the moments where you can live in the stillness are magical, and the music captures that. It captures the aspirational warmth, the desire to keep everything perfect for the person in front of you--the need to make the world a better place, for all its flaws, because there is someone in your life who deserves better. 

Eddie’s vocals linger on each word, in no hurry to move on, grateful for the chance to be here. It’s an understated performance, but more realistic for it. These are quiet feelings and honest enough to not require much dressing up. In a lot of ways this is one of the more genuine sounding song in the catalog---which is only amplified by the heart on sleeve earnestness of I’m Open and the dismissiveness of Mankind. 

It is also worth noting that the other songs about relationships with others (Smile, Hail hail) are loud, the tenderness in them roughed up a bit by the music. Around the Bend, with the focus on parent and child, is much softer, more intimate, because the parent/child relationship in many ways obliterates (for the parent) the distinction between self and other. And because they are unified the music lacks the opposition present in the other songs. 

I do not have much to add regarding the lyrics that I didn’t say above. There are few memorable lines here, but together they describe the experience of watching your child (or anyone you care deeply for) sleep, thankful for the moments you have, praying that the world becomes worthy of them, and vowing that no matter what, you make yourself worthy of them too.

And that’s what the album is about. If we learn to forgive ourselves we can start to become the person our loved ones deserve. If we make our peace with the world we can make the most of the time we have with them. There may not be a grand unifying theory of everything--there may not be one answer to everything that is wrong with the world, and ourselves, But there is this, and it is enough.

As a postscript, I think No Code was one of the more ambitious albums they had done to date. Making peace is a lot harder than making war. There is a lot on here that is tentative, and the album has always felt disjointed to me--perhaps the pieces all fit together, but there isn’t a particularly satisfying rhyme or reason to how they are arranged. Still, that may also be what gives the album its heart and its charm, and it may be what so many fans find compelling about it. These are the first tentative steps down a new road, the first stabs at finding safe passage through difficult spaces, and beginnings are imperfect. We stumble. We double back. But the important thing is that the journey has begun.

Around the Bend

No Code 
Riot Act 
Pearl Jam 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Throw Your Arms Around Me

We announced last month that Ed and Neil Finn were covering Throw Your Arms Around Me for a Hunters & Collectors tribute album, Crucible.  Now Spin Magazine has a stream up of the song.  Pearl Jam fans have been loving this song for a long time, now you can have the killer studio version.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

For the Completist: The Essential and Long Strange Road

Two soon-to-be-released items have popped up onto Amazon this week.  For those of us who scour the Internet for all things even remotely related to Pearl Jam, these'll probably be purchased, but unless you own all three of the Pearl Jam lullaby rendition CDs, these are probably not worth it.  

Yeah, we totally made up this cover.
The first is, The Essential, which is expected to be part of a series by Sony's Legacy label.  According to Amazon, you can start looking for this 2-disc set October 22nd.  The listing was recently changed to say "The Essential (rearviewmirror 1991-2003)," but since the greatest hits album, Rearviewmirror, has a different Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN), and there is no tracklisting, we just have no idea what to expect here.  

The Ten Club has made no mention of the collection, so it's likely a greatest hits album compiled by Sony with little to no input from the band.  Unless we find out something different, this is unlikely to be worth it for someone who owns Rearviewmirror, Pearl Jam, and Backspacer.

The second item, a 2-DVD documentary called Long Strange Road, is even less likely to be worth the effort.  The studio, Chrome Dreams (you'll remember them from the fairly recent Pearl Jam: Under Review), describes it thusly:
Although initially seen as purveyors of the Grunge sound and occasionally referred to as 'everyone's second favourite band from Seattle', Pearl Jam have, across almost a quarter of a century together, now become known as one of the world's very finest rock bands, and indeed their 60 million plus record sales to date is proof positive of their huge appeal. Pearl Jam 
Long Strange Road is a 2 DVD celebration of this extraordinary band's longevity, talent and near flawless musical output. Featuring a DVD documentary tracing Pearl Jam's incredible story so far, and featuring interviews with Eddie and the rest of the guys, as well as contributions from close friends, colleagues and some of the finest rock critics around, plus plentiful archive, rare footage and seldom seen photographs, and with a second DVD featuring numerous filmed interviews with the group from different eras of their musical career, this double pack film collection is certain to delight Pearl Jam fans across the globe.
We can't believe this is much more than a lower-quality production of Pearl Jam Twenty, although it might be a fair compilation of interviews from over the years.  If you must have all things Pearl Jam, go for it, but unless you collected four No Codes so you could have all four Polaroid sets, just pick up the 3-BluRay version of Pearl Jam Twenty.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pearl Jam Release Video for Sirens

Apparently bumping up the release because of a fairly widespread leak, Pearl Jam released their official single and video for Sirens, the second single from their upcoming album, Lightning Bolt.

Ten Club members who ordered Lightning Bolt can head to their account section to download a digital file of their choice (instructions are here).  Presumably others will be able to purchase it soon.
"Sirens" Video Credits:
Director: Danny Clinch
Producer: Lindha Narvaez
DP: Vance Burberry
Editor: Dom Whitworth
Color: Samuel Gursky
Production Company: Milkt Films

"Sirens" Song Credits:
Words: Eddie Vedder
Music: Mike McCready

You can also check out a great Mike McCready interview with Triple M to hear what it was like to write Sirens.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

TSIS Review: Sirens

I have written well over 200 pages of text on Pearl Jam’s music, what I think it means, and what it means to me.  I have never felt as stumped by a song as I have by Sirens.  For the first 5-6 listens I had no idea what to make of it.  I still am not really sure.  But if I was going to make a list of songs I thought Pearl Jam would someday write this would have been right there at the bottom.  It is so puzzling because this is, in many ways, the anti-Pearl Jam song.  Take almost everything you would normally expect from them, invert it, and you end up somewhere close to sirens.

Early reports of this song likened it to an 80s power ballad. I was expecting something huge and bombastic like November Rain.  Hell, I was looking forward to that.  I find as I’ve gotten older I have a certain appreciation for songs that just go for broke, and bask in their own ridiculousness.  10 years ago my favorite karaoke song to sing probably would have been Jeremy.  Today it is Total Eclipse of the Heart.

In some ways, this is the textbook definition of a cheesy song. In other ways it is the opposite of cheese. There is often a calculated, manipulative quality to cheese, and this song fully embraces this type of song with the breathtaking sincerity that has always separated Pearl Jam from their peers. This is guilty pleasure that is not only guilt free, but would be puzzled by the suggestion that you should feel guilty.

It’s curious. It would be a textbook definition of an ultra cheesy 80s power ballad, except there is no huge chorus, the huge solo is subdued, there is no catchy vocal melody, no hook—the things that made the cheese fun. Everything that made an 80s power ballad what it was is actually absent from here.  It’s almost like you’re left with the bare bones template of that style of song.  These are master craftsmen, and so this begs the questions, what did Pearl Jam choose to fill it with, and did it work?

The music is very pretty, but oddly non-descript.  Again, it’s almost like a template just waiting for the details that will make it beautiful. Like an undressed mannequin, maybe. There are some nice moments here and there (I really like the strumming coming out of the solo, for instance, and some nice background vocalizations), but for the most part it is unadorned, absence the lushness or desolation Pearl Jam usually adds to these songs.   There is a lovely melancholy to the music, but again, it is still a blank canvas.

Eddie is what fills it in.  This is a subdued performance, but he sounds beautiful and sings movingly.  The song primes you for power ballad excess and then hangs all those expectations on Eddie’s affecting but understated performance. Unlike everything  else we’ve heard on this record, the vocal melody is not particularly prominent.  So it’s all on his subtle performance and the story he is telling.  For instance, the song climaxes with a gentle falsetto delivery of the lyric ‘the fear goes away’ and some delicate vocalizations, rather than the bombast we’d normally expect.  It tries to sweep you away so gently you don’t notice until you’re already falling.  If you let it happen it’ll be a wonderful song.  If you don’t, the song will be boring.

It’s a moving set of lyrics, for the most part, a story about the fear of loss that comes from being blessed by having something too precious to lose, and the gratitude for having experienced it. Eddie has covered this in The End, Speed of Sound, and Just Breathe. In some ways this is the most ambitious take on these themes.

In some ways this is a song written from a very specific experience, and easier to appreciate if you can relate (as is always the case with love songs about the possession of, rather than the hunger for). If you have that person you literally can’t bear to lose (not just someone you love) it’ll be easier to get inside this song.  It’s a love song, but  not love in the new love/passion/bright flame sense of the term.  This is the love that turns to air, that you breathe in so often you cease to notice except for those moments where something forces you to step back and see it again for the first time.  The shock of how powerful it is, and how meaningful it is, can be breathtaking when you are lucky enough to have it happen. There is no experience in the world that feels more real.  But if you’ve never experienced it then Sirens will seem, well, cheesy.  

It’s true that songs like The End and Just Breathe also tried to do the same thing. Many people found those songs cheesy or overwrought. I  loved them, but I knew I loved them right away and they also had the tools to help me love them right away.  The more striking vocal melodies, the drama/melodrama in the music. These aren’t present in Sirens, and so this isn’t an easy listen

So there we go. The song still confounds me, even ten listens in.  I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. I don’t feel indifferent about it (I can easily spot those reactions).  For the first time in twenty years I just don’t know what I think yet. In that respect I don’t know when I’ve last felt this challenged by a Pearl Jam song, even though this doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult song.  The challenge comes from the way it plays against expectations—the expectations I have for Pearl Jam and the way it simultaneously primes you for a particular experience and then undercuts the obvious foundations for that experience.

I can say this.  I know that it is very pretty, but in a way that feels a little blank.  Like I said above, this song, more than most of the catalog (if not all) is a canvas waiting to be filled. And Eddie fills it.  But without the obviously vocal melody, chorus hooks, and the rest, it’s going to come down to learning the words, diving into the story, and letting it sweep me away. That will take time, and quiet, and not sitting in my office getting interrupted by my colleagues.    If this is a song I want to belt at the top of my lungs it’ll be a massive success. If it isn’t, then it’ll be a song that comes up on shuffle, and gets the occasional listen as I try to discover if this is the time it’ll move me.  But it is way too early for me to tell.   

Tonight, when I pace the floor of my daughter’s room rocking her to sleep and listening to this song, I’ll find the answer. And since my eyes just teared up just a little, maybe I already know…

The Media Starts to Weigh in on Lightning Bolt

Our experience with Lightning Bolt so far has been limited to say the least.  We've got one proper song, a couple of live performances, a soundcheck, a poor quality leak, and though we expect to hear Sirens this week, so far, we have Mike McCready strumming.

But a couple of music websites have had a chance to hear the album and craft some reviews, the first, by is positive and paints a brief, but exciting picture of the album.
The following ‘Mind Your Manners’ continues this all-guns-blazing approach. The guitar here is more barbed than the previous cut, with a real heavy metal feel. The adrenaline begins to surge. ‘My Father’s Son’ ensures it doesn’t dissipate, its primal punk-cum-garage momentum indicative of a band truly locked into their flow.

Infallible’ – another rougher-edged song, the fifth of its kind so far – is a hard-grunge affair which finds Vedder hitting every note with real precision, like a spear fisherman not missing a single strike. It’s a wonder how this man’s voice has sustained across the years – he sounds every bit as strong here as he did on ‘Ten’ and ‘Vs.’, what feels like a lifetime ago (and, for some fans, probably is).

And then, something completely different, as ‘Pendulum’ sounds unlike anything these men have recorded previously. It’s a bleak piece, reverbed guitar bringing a real sense of desolation to proceedings. A tambourine comes in, and an adagio bassline furthers the song’s atmospheric, experimental sound.
The second, by Drowned in Sound, is not nearly so complimentary, providing a more bleak, disinterested review.
Sirens: Right, we’ve reached cheesy ballad territory now. Any remaining hope that the album signals a return to a consistently harder rocking Pearl Jam sound is dwindling. The band think highly of this one apparently, but it’s bit too fluffy and middle-aged sounding for these ears.

Let The Records Play: Oh dear. This is one of those rare moments when Pearl Jam come off as almost pastiche-like in their attempts to make a song that’s pure “fun”. They have rarely pulled off the trick successfully since ‘Rats’ two decades ago. Unfortunately they definitely don’t get it right here.

Sleeping By Myself: A reprisal of one of the songs from Eddie’s solo Ukulele Songs record from a couple of years back. Apparently this was re-recorded and included on the album at the suggestion of producer Brendan O’Brien. He’s had better ideas.
What side will you fall on? We've found it hard to find negative things to say about Pearl Jam's music, so I doubt you'll be seeing words like "dwinding," "fluffy," or "pastiche-like," but only time will tell.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ed Performs at Epidermolysis Bullosa Benefit

Last year, Ed threw his support behind the Epidermolysis Bullosa Medical Research Foundation.  Now, he's done it again, playing a benefit last night in Malibu.  PearlJamOnline has the setlist, and a summary.

  • Can't Keep 
  • Without You
  • Trouble
  • Hide Your Love Away
  • Just Breathe
  • Far Behind
  • Guaranteed
  • Picture In A Frame
  • Wishlist
  • Unthought Known
  • Tonight You Belong to Me (with Catherine Keener)
  • The Kids Are Alright (with Adam Sandler)
  • Shattered (with Jeanne Tripplehorn)
  • The New World (with Tim Robbins)
  • Golden State (with Natalie Maines)
  • You Can Close Your Eyes (with Natalie Maines)
  • Hard Sun

Mike McCready's Sirens Vignette

Pearl Jam, who is quickly becoming masters of the tease, released a short clip of Mike McCready strumming an acoustic guitar called "'Sirens' Vignette."  Tomorrow's single?  Almost certainly!  Make that definitely ... the clip ends with "9.19.13."

A Guided Tour of No Code: I'm Open

If mankind represents a cynical dead end (why bother caring), I’m Open is a reprise of the deep, raw longing that lies beneath most of the songs on this record, closer to the surface some places, hidden others, but always present. No answers here, but we do have a palpable need for them, and a willingness to make yourself open to them, to strip yourself of your past regrets, the surrounding bullshit, the past you carry, and actually seek them out.

Musically I’m Open creates the same hazy dream space as Present Tense and Sometimes, although this feels a bit darker and heavier, beautiful, but with something stifling underneath it that needs to be let go. Songs like Sometimes, Present Tense, and Who You Are are clearly further along the road to self-discovery, have uncovered more of the code, than has happened here. Having said that, the music does lighten during the chorus (during the ‘come in’s’, especially, where the music slowly, gently ascends ), as if the healing has begun. 

Eddie’s voice has its customary deep richness, but spoken word is rarely when he is at his best--the music in his voice is diminished. It’s too bad, as it results in a deeply personal song losing some of its intimacy, and comes across as a bit heavy handed (especially given the I AM NOW THINKING BIG THOUGHTS feel to the music, which lacks the subtlety of other songs on the record). it also draws extra attention to the lyrics, which may be the point.

Lyrically there are some nice moments here, but it does border on overwrought at times. They address a deep disenchantment with the world, the replacement of magic for fact, a world where everything is what it is, and we are bound to what it’s in front of us. You can’t dream in a world like that, let alone move beyond it. The singer feels trapped, innocence long abandoned (a call back to In My Tree). 

However, through nothing more than force of will, a willingness to open up (open up to what we don’t quite find out yet) and let go, the singer prepares himself to reenchant his world, to look for places to let the magic back in. What he imagines we don’t discover in the song, although we’ve been offered glimpses throughout the album. We may get the clearest picture in Around the Bend .

I'm Open
Around the Bend

No Code 
Riot Act 
Pearl Jam 

Friday, September 13, 2013

New Lightning Bolt Single, September 19th

If news of today's leak hasn't got you excited, maybe this will do it.  We don't actually know which song is coming our way, but we do know that SiriusXM will be debuting the next single from Lightning Bolt next week.  The countdown has started on Pearl Jam Radio's website.
Pearl Jam
New Single - World Premiere
9.19.13 3 PM ET

Only on Pearl Jam Radio
We've heard lots of hype around Sirens.  Brendan O'Brien called it "one of the best songs on the record.  We have our fingers crossed.

Lightning Bolt: The TSIS Partial Review

Well it’s been just about four years but we finally have our first extended taste of new Pearl Jam, thanks to a partial leak of songs from Lighting Bolt (Getaway, Lightning Bolt, Let the Records Play, and Swallowed Whole).   They’re good. A couple are very good.  Lightning Bolt might be great.  

A few caveats:
1. This is a crappy sounding leak.  You can definitely get a feel for the songs and make out the details, but the whole thing sounds blurry--like a 10th generation copy of a cassette mix (which is basically how I first heard Vitalogy). It is clear that everything will have more definition and depth when we get the album (and it is understandable why artists don’t like it when their stuff leaks in substandard form, and why people with more will power than myself don’t listen to this stuff).

2. Based on what we’ve gathered from the Lightning Bolt listening parties, these tracks are the connective tissue on Lightning Bolt--the songs that help move the record along or serve as breaks between some of the more expansive and ambitious songs.   That’s not to say that they are lightweight.  These songs have attitude or reach for (and arrive at) some majestic places.  But they are also the songs that are probably the most likely to feel familiar.

Is this a logical extension of Backspacer?  Yeah, pretty much. At least these songs are (again, from all accounts the songs that are likely to feel different  we have yet to hear). They feel stripped of the heavy and increasingly claustrophobic weight and anger that characterized, in different ways, the run of albums from Binaural through S/T.  They are lighter. They take themselves less seriously (even when they’re earnest, and you don’t get much more earnest than Lightning Bolt). Instead of being angry they are wry--the knowing smile you’d get from someone who isn’t going to be surprised by much anymore.  But there is also a musical depth that was absent from much of Backspacer.  The songs seem to feel a little more solid, and in some ways more purposeful.  There is a sense of mission that wasn’t always present on Backspacer (or was understated enough to be missed if you weren’t looking for it), but that makes sense.  Lightning Bolt seems to be a more ambitious undertaking, and the band seems more energized, more present, more prepared to give us something we haven’t heard before.  And Eddie sound really good--the crackly screaming on Backspacer (which I did like, but many did not) seems to be gone, and the deeper parts of his register which were curiously absent from that record are back. Picture Backspacer Eddie singing with the same energy but in the Riot Act style.  If you’re reading this you’ve heard Mind Your Manners and so you probably know what I’m talking about.

I think we can also make some sense of the title now, and the larger theme of the album. Lightning Bolt really seems to be shaping up to be an album about inspiration--where it comes from and, just as importantly, what you can do with it?  How does it move you, and how does it hold you back.  Recall the lyric from Hail Hail ‘I sometimes realize I can only be as good as you’ll let me’.  It is looking increasingly like this is the core issue the album is going to grapple with.  The context seems to be, at  least in part,  a world that is failing us, that is falling down on every front.  I can relate.  I was struck the other day about how unhappy I was that THIS was the world I brought my little girls into, and that there needs to be something more than this. The question is what will get us there.   So once again I’m lucky enough to have a pearl jam record come along that mirrors where I am in my own life.

There seems to be a definite villain in this story--just about every song we’ve heard is locating the forces of inertia and reaction within religion--both the actual institutions of organized religion and a broader critique of its otherworldly focus.  There are probably better targets that Eddie Vedder the social theorist could have picked, but at the same time to focus on the religious aspect misses the point.  This is less an album about religion’s alleged failings than it seems to be an album that is looking for something to replace it.

Or that’s my initial read, anyway.  There are still 5 tracks we haven’t heard, and their presence on the record could change everything.  Okay, onto the songs:


This is the  song that feels the freshest of the four, and is a surprising choice for an album opener.  Usually a song with this kind of accelerated mid tempo stomp shows up later in the record.  This song has an appealing swagger to it. It struts in a way most pearl jam songs don’t, and seems driven by Jeff’s bass work.   If Got Some slowed itself down and was slightly less sleazy than Johnny Guitar you might end up with Getaway, although it’s a surprisingly earnest song for its self-confidence (then again, it’s Pearl Jam).   There’s a really strong ending on this, reminiscent of the Rearview Mirror outro (although not that powerful--I don’t want to  set people up for disappointment).  But still, this is how we all wanted Got Some to resolve, and it should segue nicely into Mind Your Manners. 

It does open up with an unfortunate lyric “everyone’s a critic” which means we’ll hear 50 different reviewers thinking this lyric is addressed at them.  The anti-religious language is most prominently on display here, with the song trying to encourage people to hold fast to their conviction that things can be better in a world that just wants you to accept things the way they are. In that respect the swagger has a little bit of false bravado to it--trying to express a confidence it may not entirely feel.  It also helps make clear that religion is the problem because it feels static and soporific. It may not be the cause of the world’s problems, but it is getting in the way of the solutions.

Some standout lyrics include “sometimes you have to put your faith in no faith” and the anchor line of the chorus “mine is mine and yours won’t take its place”


We’ve all heard the Wrigley version.  The studio has a little less on guitar solo front, but is otherwise superior in just about every other way, and is easily my favorite of the new songs.  Yes, it does sound like Unthought Known, but it is the song Unthought Known wanted to be--Unthought Known started off with a marvelous build but the song plateaus too quickly and ends up treading water.  Lightning Bolt moves and breathes and rises and falls and has a life that to it that UK could never sustain.  We start out with the familiar palm muted guitar and piano accents, although it’s a bit faster and more urgent, and it explodes about 30 seconds in, rising and expanding with a threshing  guitar solo that stops abruptly so we can drop back into the verses (this time with some fixer bridge coloration) and rise again

The final minute and forty five seconds of this song is wonderful.  There are some really nice spacey guitar effects (or keys or something) underneath the dramatic sweep of the song and some wonderful emancipatory imagery that can keep up with the stakes the music keeps raising. It all culminates with a Given to Fly esque ending that Unthought Known and Amongst the Waves both desperately needed.  Eddie belts out a great set of lyrics soaring on the wings of the music into the sort of cathartic outro that is the hallmark of so much of their best music.

And with no repair in sight there is
No God with such might
As you open her world wide with such a view
And your death will soon arrive
As she finally decides
That all her problems, they won’t die with you

I think the best thing I can say about the end of Lightning is that by the time the outro closes with  “she’s a lightning bolt/uncontrollable/like you” I actually believe (for a few seconds) that this is a good title.  If you hate the outro of Marker in the Sand or Joshua Tree era U2 this may be a turn off, but then again the same traits are there at the end of Given to Fly.  This is basically the promise of release and a better world to come implicit in so much of pearl jam’s music, but made explicit.  That’s a lot of drama for one song. I think this one pulls it off.   

My biggest complaint is that this is all resolving so well and then there is a damned fade out right in the middle of a space I wanted to linger in.  I can’t really judge until I hear how it transitions into the next song, but it better be worth it.

Since they named the album after this song it’s probably safe to assume that this song is meant to be a centerpiece track on the album.  Like I said earlier, it’s a song about inspiration, keeping faith in dark times (in your personal life and in the world around you--pearl jam has long used personal relationships to mirror a larger social struggle), and holding on for the ride.  In a lot of ways this strikes me as a companion piece to Force of Nature (with a different type of 80s style excess), although if the central element in Force of Nature is water this one is air.

It starts out slow, but this really turns into a glorious song.


If REM did the soundtrack for Into the Wild we’d probably have gotten Swallowed Whole.  It’s a jangly optimistic number that starts out sounding like an Eddie solo song but, Mike and Stone actually decide to write music for themselves this time, and so the song ends up sounding a lot richer and fuller than you might expect when you first heard to expect Into the Wild.   High energy verses (reminiscent of a major key Uberlin, if you are familiar with that REM song) with quieter choruses and bridge.  There’s a nice solo leading out of the bridge into the final verses that reinvigorates the song just when it starts to drag.  Like Lightning Bolt, this ends much stronger than it begins.  All the energy dissipates in the final 15 seconds, but it feels like a resolution rather than a let down. Picture the end of Tremor Christ.

Whispered songs inside the wind
Breathing in forgiveness
And the chapter I’ve not read
Turn the page

This is easily the most Better Days new age batch of lyrics we’ve heard.  It seems to be about finding inspiration from the world around you, and using its energy to heal the wounds we’ve inflicted.  A bit heavy handed in places, but it’s well meaning and lacks the Eat Pray Love vibe we got from a song that, well, appeared on the Eat Pray Love soundtrack.   Picture eddie writing a song about how he feels reborn after he surfs, but then being told he can’t use any water imagery, and you’ll end up with this.

This is probably the song I personally enjoyed the least of the batch, but part of that may be because I hardly feel the need for something light and refreshing after Lightning Bolt, which already left me feeling pretty good. This song might take on some extra life after following the two allegedly darker and heavier songs preceding it on the album (Infallible and Pendulum).  And it’s still good, mind you, catchy, with a strong ending.


This is some pretty familiar thematic territory, an idea they’ve tried to express ith marginal success in Big Wave and Supersonic. They get it right here.  It’s a song about numbing yourself with drugs and alcohol at the end of the world.  There’s a swampy southern barroom swagger to this (I hear that over the 50s rock and roll vibe reported from some of the listening party reviews).  If ZZ Top was going to cover a pearl jam song it’d be this one.  The vocal melody is catchy in a curiously upbeat way, as if by celebrating oblivion you can somehow defeat it.  Nice solo reminiscent of Supersonic, but it actually belongs here.  Some nice soloing to take us out  that once again ends in a fade out for seemingly no reason.  It’s not as bad as Lightning Bolt, but I’m still not sure why guitar solos can’t just finish.   If you gave 1/2 Full a shot of whiskey and some beef jerkey and a hard on and told it to listen to Get Right you’d probably end up here.

And yes there are handclaps, and yes they work.  This is how you write a fun song without making it feel disposable.

I am reluctant to draw too many conclusions just yet. This is not a high quality leak, and it’s difficult to really grasp a song outside the context provided by the songs that surround it.  I think I liked Mind Your Manners more than any of these except Lightning Bolt, but then again I loved Mind Your Manners.   I’m not sure any of these are going to become my favorite song on the album, but they have me primed for the record and feeling really good about it.  If everything else matches the quality of these songs we’ll have a good record. If everything else is better we could have a great one. My Father’s Son, Sirens, Infallible, Yellow Moon, Pendulum--the ball is now in your court.