Pearl Jam

Epic Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


That vice of fame, that restrictive grip of fan and commercial expectation is off of Pearl Jam, for now. Far too many people are going to monitor whether Ms. Spears lastest album will catch up to N*Sync this week.

As a band, Pearl Jam have become more and more expansive in their sound since Vitalogy. Their reliance on experimentism paid off in spades with Yield, perhaps their second-best album in their catalog. Drummer Jack Irons opened up Pearl Jam's sound and gave free reign for guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready and bassist Jeff Ament to fill up the gaps with some of their finest moments. Now, armed with ex-Soundgarden drummer, Matt Cameron, Pearl Jam could not be in better hands in the rhythm department.

But, as Yield was a wide-eyed, expressive and open account of Vedder's want to communicate again with the outside world, Binaural signals more of a traditional, and sometimes safer path. With tracks like "Nothing As It Seems," "Grievance" and "Breakerfall," Pearl Jam seem to be more concered with just rocking out than developing any major song structures.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It shouldn't startle that Binaural is somewhat of a letdown. Don't get me wrong, it is worth the purchase, and I'm sure it will grow with repeated listens. But on Binaural, Pearl Jam didn't have as much conflict as they are typically accustomed to. Their best material has come out of conflict. The anger of being pegged as "Seattle/grunge/angst spokespersons" came bleeding out in Vs. They lashed out at the commercial failure of No Code with the glorious and humane Yield.

With Yield's success, sort of, the pressure was off on Pearl Jam. It also didn't hurt that they had their biggest hit in their career last year when they covered "Last Kiss." As a result, the members were fairly free to noodle about and experiment with their own sounds. As a band, this helps in the long run. Each member had either a songwriting or music credit for each of the songs on Binaural.

However, for every time this works, there's bound to be some ruts in the road. And Binaural has some of those moments. "Rival" just seems to collapse in on itself and lose steam. "Insignificance," though a pretty song unto itself, just doesn't have that gorgous sweep of "Wishlist" or "Betterman." Pearl Jam fans are not looking for sequels to these songs, but most expect that passion to be there in each of Pearl Jam's songs.

Still, lots of things work on Binaural. "Thin Air" has to be one of the most beautiful songs the band has ever recorded. And the fitting coda, "Parting Ways," shines with Vedder's unmistakable aura. The lyrics are fairly simplistic: "Behind her eyes there's curtains/And they've been closed to hide the flames." And most of the album is fairly simplistic, lyric wise. On "Light Years," Vedder moans, "Every inch between us becomes light years now." But, Vedder is gifted enough of a songwriter to make these words seem profound. And like a typical Pearl Jam album, fast forward a little from the final track and you'll get a treasured oddity.

Like an ace sports team in a rebuilding year, Binaural seems to come from a band that's content with hanging in the background while the bubblegum scene seems to devour each other. It seems though that the band didn't put the throttle down and waited a bit for Matt Cameron to ease his way into the band. He'll be a welcome addition. And the highlights of Binaural show that another classic album from their catalog may be an album away. Until then, Binaural is enough to tide fans over. It's Pearl Jam. But too often, that unbridled spark of energy seems a bit dulled.

Rating: B

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© 2000 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.