Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Greatness of Yield

Another characteristic of mine that might or might not be a symptom of music snobbery is that I tend to pick favorites that are a bit off the beaten path. For example, On the Beach is my favorite Neil Young album. Maroon is my favorite Barenaked Ladies album. I could (and might) write 1000 words on why Fulfillingness' First Finale is a better album than Songs in the Key of Life. Why am I mentioning this? Because Pearl Jam has a new album coming out soon, and since I can't seem to stop talking about them at the moment (did you see them on SNL last night? Fan-freaking-tastic), I figured now was a good time to talk about why Yield is the greatest Pearl Jam album. Not Ten, not Vs. Yield.

Yield came at a transitional time for Pearl Jam, and it was an absolute home run. It was 1998, and PJ had survived seven years' worth of challenges that would have made most bands break apart. They'd unwillingly been one of the two faces of a national trend (the other face blew itself away), fought the trappings of fame as much as possible (think about how prevalent the song "Black" was in the early-' think about how widespread it would have been had PJ not refused to release it as a stations thought it was so good that they played it anyway), and stood up to themselves, as it turned out. They could have broken up, and nobody would have blamed them, but they didn't. They challenged their fans with No Code in 1996, and then they transcended everything with Yield.

As Rolling Stone said in its original review...

They want you to hear Yield as an album rather than as a pop-culture event, distancing themselves even further from their anthemmongering, trauma-sharing, flannel-flaunting youth. Pearl Jam might not be the generational spokesmodels they used to be, but they've grown up to be a looser, livelier band, writing sharper tunes to fit their dense, intricate guitar fuzz.

Being that they'd never wanted to be "generational spokesmodels", I don't think they minded passing that torch.

To me, it always seemed like No Code was PJ's "We are going to make the music we want to make" album. It was creative and experimental (and had a few amazing songs like "Off He Goes" and "In My Tree")...and, not surprisingly, it didn't sell very well. But it unshackled them from any and all expectations/limitations, and the result of that release was Yield. Rock adjectives like "soaring" and "spacious" are tossed around far too much to actually have much meaning, but they really do apply here. I mean, "Given to Fly" is the definition of "soaring and spacious", and it's one of the more purely beautiful songs they've done. But beyond that, almost every song makes a large emotional connection, and that's probably what keeps me (and every PJ fan) coming back. There were no expectations for what a Pearl Jam song had to represent anymore, or how it had to sound...they just let the emotions carry the song.
  • "Wishlist" is, dare I say, almost cheesy in its show of affection ("I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good/I wish I was the full moon shining off your camaro's hood").
  • "Faithfull" almost comes across as a show of un-Eddie-like optimism ("We're faithfull/We all believe, we all believe it"). It's also my wife's favorite PJ song, so that's gotta mean something.
  • "Do the Evolution" is pure, shining sarcasm in the form of a rock song that is actually a lot more relevant now than it was eight years ago ("I'm ahead, I'm advanced/I'm the first mammal to wear pants, yeah/I'm at peace, with my lust/I can kill 'cause in god I trust, yeah/It's evolution, baby")
  • "Low Light" is a Jeff Ament contribution about a car crash and loss...with a really creative time signature to boot.
  • Last but not least, "In Hiding" is simply the best Pearl Jam song ever. Soaring vocals, a great riff, and very personal lyrics about Eddie hiding from the outside world.

Dave Marsh said the following in a lengthy 1998 article:

In certain ways -- the spaciousness of its sound, the multiplicity of perspectives that come from Jeff and Stone making strong writing contributions as lyricists as well as riff inventors, the number of memorable tracks ("Do the Evolution," "Wish List," "Pilate," "Brain of J," "Given to Fly," "Low Light") -- you could argue that it is the band's very best. The Pearl Jam of Yield don't sound moody or disaffected. They sound like a rock band raring to go.

What it sounded like to me was a rock band ready for longevity. A band without solid communication and trust wouldn't have made it to 1998, much less to 2006. Now, for their upcoming album, Pearl Jam, they have built in me expectations so high that almost no band could possibly fulfill them. Almost. Pearl Jam is one of the only bands in existence that have never let me down.