Sunday, May 14, 2006

Kat's Korner: Pearl Jam does Pearl Jam

And if anybody should come along,
He gonna give you any love and affection,
I'd say get it while you can, yeah!
Hey, hey, get it while you can,
Hey, hey, get it while you can.
Don't you turn your back on love,
No no no, no no no no no.

Kat: As Janis sang in Jerry Ragovoyand Mort Schuman's "Get It While You Can," "don't you turn your back on love." Which brings us to Pearl Jam, the dart board fave of many.

Did Eddie & company market themselves as alternative? I'm not remembering that. I'm remembeing really bad music writers attempting to market Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron (drummer of late who appears to be sticking but who knows with this group?) and Mike McCready as another slice of alternative Nirvana. Which they weren't.
They've always been a rock band. Never alternative rock. But throw the dart at the music critics (and Epic publicists) who tried to pimp that lie, not the group.

Then there's the whole Ticketmaster issue. The group backed down, some say. Ticketmaster could have been defeated! Want to defeat Ticketmaster? Buy your tickets at the box office. Ticketmaster is just one layer in the shell game (and venues are a bigger issue to me). So if you're convinced that Pearl Jam could've, but didn't, bring down Ticketmaster and you're still using the service to purchase your tickets, throw the dart at yourself.

What are we left with? The 'concert'? The one where the crowds parted in search of different exit routes? Well, if you still have faith in Asshole Press to deliver the news as it really happened, go ahead and hate Pearl Jam. Reality was always that there was no mass exodus which is why it wasn't reported in the original 'journalist''s "report." It only popped up later as they were used in an attempted cautionary tale to silence dissent.

"B-b-b-but Kat, they don't like the Bully Boy!" Okay, fair enough. I really can't imagine anyone in the community stating that as an issue they have with the group, but fair enough. They don't like the Bully Boy, nor were they wild for Bill Clinton, so if that's the make-it-or-break-it for you, head for the exit.

For the other 70%+ in the country, what can we really convict them of? A really bad appearance in Cameron Crow's Singles? I'll conceed that point. Big in Belgium or not, that was embarrassing. If you can get past that, you might want to check their latest, self-titled album.

Pearl Jam left Epic and, made noises about staying away from all the big labels, when their bondage contract with a company that never understood them ended. Like Prince when he emerged from exile from the majors, somehow they ended up with Clive Davis (J Records) which means you should be able to find the CD everywhere outside of Kennebunkport, ME -- land of the Bushes and, I'm sure, several crabs. (It also means they are back on Sony.)

So what will you find if you pick up the CD?

"Parachutes" for one thing. It's the most adventurous song Pearl Jam's done since "Thumbing My Way" which both gives you an idea of how little experimentation has gone on in this group and reassures that you'll have the meat and potato basics. Maggie swore she'd fallen in love with this song. Dak Ho asked her what it was talking about and she said she had no idea, she didn't even know the title. Toni said, "Great, another one you fall into bed without getting a name first." Maggie reminded that a lot of "fun times" had been had "by many" via that route.

Which may be the best argument for this song. It's a tumble. A late night pick up that you're never really sure of. Eddie's voice seems sexy as it careens up and down but maybe he just needed to use the bathroom? You never know until you take the guy home if what you're seeing as a sexy strut is actually the result of excessive urine retention or someone comfortable in his own skin.

It actually should have opened the album. It or "Unemployable" which veers less from the standard Pearl Jam sound but is still different enough to leave a mark.

Sumner says it's like Van Halen circa 5150 or 1984 which I took to mean, "You've got a working band laying down some strong rock." Nothing in "Big Wave" should surprise anyone who already has Vs. Which means, at it's worst, Pearl Jam gives you half-baked Tracy Chapman lyrics delivered in a Doors' style -- "Gone," or as Dak Ho dubbed it, "Semi-Fast Car."

Eddie Vedder remains the inquisitive Soldier of Love and it may be time for him to stop asking so many questions and actually provide some answers. At various points throughout the album, he wonders: "How long must she stand before the ground, it gives"?; "How will he ever dream?"; "Why deny all the troubles"?; "What went wrong?"; "What is human . . . What is more?"; "What can be saved, and who will be left to hold her?"; "Why swim the channel just to get this far?"; and "How loud can silence get?".

As these and other questions pile up, you start to get the idea that lyricist Vedder hasn't done his homework but thinks if he can keep raising his hand and asking questions, teacher might not catch on. The most honest moment may not be the drug song ("Severed Hand") but in "Gone" when he sings "Feel like a question is forming and the answers far." Some might think Vedder meant: "the answer's far." I don't. I think he's saying many answers can be found to every question. He fears the definitive and he fears pinning anything down (might close an "open door" -- he's fond of those open doors). But at some point, you either start providing some answers or you come off sounding like Barbara Walters set to music.

As a lyricist, Eddie Vedder remains the group's weakest aspect. To some, those are fighting words. But at some point you have to note that he's never had a strong sense of rhyming (even when you factor in false rhymes), that his syntax is awkward and that too many songs go nowhere lyrically. When he can work up a rage, justifiable, he can usually provide vocals that overcome the lyrical deficencies but they are deficenies. Some who thought the band was "alternative" might not have noticed, might have thought it was further pursuit of the nonlinear along the lines of Kurt Cobain and Tori Amos; however, it's just bad lyrics in Vedder's case.

Now for those offended, Pearl Jam's a great band. But the lyrical problem should have been dealt with years ago. We're talking about a lyricist who makes Dave Matthews sound like, by comparison, Randy Newman. On "World Wide Suicide" and "Army Reserve," he works up enough outrage in his plaintive vocals to distract. But we're talking about a band that's had fame over a decade now. At what point does reality sink in that the best lyrics recorded by this band come from outside? ("Crazy Mary," "Last Kiss," etc.) When your heroes are the Who and Neil Young & Crazy Horse, you really need to have the lyrics.

I read the above to Sumner and C.I. and both said, "Kat, you know there are people that think Pearl Jam's an alternative band?" Still? When they were being packaged as such by the likes of Time Magazine, I could understand some confusion but their points of reference have never been alternative. They can rock out. They're better than Van Halen and I love them live (most of the Pearl Jam CDs I have are their concerts) but they were about as alternative as Meridth Brooks or Hootie.

Unlike those two, Pearl Jam could make music. It's why they have a career and legacy. But the reason their impact is diluted (and it is, you see wanna be Kurt Cobains every day, you rarely see a wanna be Eddie Vedder) comes down to the lyrics. If you're not a fourteen-year-old boy mistaking endless questions for figuring out the world (with or without taking a few tokes), you're left with non-poetic lyrics that contain no allusions and spit out the basics.

That is a problem when you listen to "Come Back." Here the band create something haunting but you also get Vedder's lyrics which sound as though they were dashed off during wood shop. While Kurt Cobain once wrote "With the lights off, it's less dangerous", Eddie Vedder's far more likely to write "With the lights off, it's dark." It's always obvious, it's always on the nose, it rarely rhymes and melody's never a concern. As they gear up for the 15th anniversary of the release of their first album, it's really time for the group to take a look at that.

So why should I get this? If you're a Pearl Jam fan (and I love them live) or have ever been, you know they make outstanding music. Here they provide enough tunes that can please the base and manage to push the line with with the music on three songs. A real band with a strong vocalist (but losy lyricist). Something to note. Get it while you can.