Into The Wild

Eddie Vedder

J Records, 2007

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


It took Eddie Vedder 16 years to release a solo record, and the resulting disc is just what longtime Pearl Jam fans would expect -- subtle, reflective and somewhat experimental, reflecting everything the band has done since No Code in 1996. The downside is that the subtlety translates into half-finished ideas and a half-hour running time that barely justifies the cost of the disc.

Granted, Pearl Jam fans will eat this up, so Vedder has nothing to worry about commercially, although that's been the least of his concerns since the mid-90s. And those who have not heard of Vedder got some exposure to him in mid-January at the Golden Globes, where the singer won an award for "Guaranteed," the final track on the Into The Wild soundtrack.

It's rare that such a low-key song would garner such a gaudy award, but Vedder deserves it, as the reflective lyrics and his sonorous voice mesh well with the picked guitar. "Wind in my hair, I feel part of everywhere / Underneath my being is a road that disappeared / Late at night I hear the trees, they're singing with the dead / Overhead," he sings, and one can feel the narrator's solitude.

The movie Into The Wild tells the story of a suburban kid who gave away his money and wandered into the Alaskan wilderness; Sean Penn is behind the film, which explains why Vedder is involved, as the two are in line politically and have been spotted together at various events. Vedder's lyrics center around the theme of leaving behind what one knows to find what is important, to find one's soul.

It's a theme he frequently explores on Pearl Jam songs, and the music is similar to Riot Act and Pearl Jamnbtc__dv_250 , mostly acoustic-based mid-tempo rock songs intermixed with mandolin-led pieces and the occasional instrumental. Unfortunately, this low-key approach, while fitting the theme of the movie, doesn't necessarily translate well for a full disc.

It's not that the songs are poorly written. It's that only about half of them are finished, as if Vedder got bored halfway through and forgot to add a second verse and another chorus. In addition, he tends to stay within his vocal range instead of exploring the power of his voice, which again lends to the reflective air of the disc but doesn't make much of the music memorable until after several listens.

"Far Behind" is where the disc picks up, and it belongs on a Pearl Jam disc or at least as part of the concert. The mandolin-driven "Rise" is a pleasant listen, as is the moody "Long Nights," which has rather straightforward thoughts: "Have no fear, for when I'm alone / I'll be better off than I was before / I've got this life, I'll be around to grow / Who I was before, I cannot recall."

The instrumental acoustic piece "Tuolumne" recalls Leo Kottke and rekindles the listener's interest in Vedder's guitar skills, but it is far too short. "Hard Sun" is one of the few fully-realized songs here, a five-minute mix of alternative rock and world beats, with Vedder's voice backed by Corin Tucker. Sadly, Vedder did not write this song -- Gordon Peterson did -- but it's his best performance here, even as the music swells and drowns out his voice in the last minute.

"Society" is not memorable musically but gets by on Vedder's plaintive musings voicing the thoughts of the character checking out of the world: "And you think you have to want more than you need/Until you have it all, you won't be free/Society, you're a crazy breed/I hope you're not lonely without me." This is the only other song Vedder didn't write.

"The Wolf" is another half-baked instrumental, sort of, with just an organ and Vedder wailing over top of it; it's the only part on the disc where his voice reaches all of its ranges. "End Of The Road" would have been my pick for a Golden Globe, as the music -- sparse drums and an amped-up, moody electric guitar -- create the feeling of isolation, of something being over. The songs starts out with a few words and an upbeat feeling, but eventually the drumming slows and powerful, emotive chords carry out the remainder of the tune.

One gets the feeling that Into The Wild could have been an amazing disc had it been fully finished because the best songs here are the longer ones, but surrounded with half-baked tunes and too-short instrumentals, the project falls a bit short.

That said, this is still one of the better discs to come out of 2007, and fans of alternative rock and sensitive male singer-songwriters (you know who you are) will find this rewarding. It's not something one will play frequently, but for those lonely car trips or those moments of solitude and reflection that cross your path, Into The Wild is the perfect soundtrack.

Rating: B

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