No Code (Epic Records)
By: Paula M. Sherman
Realizing that it was been almost a year since Pearl Jam released their fourth album entitled "No Code", I feel the need to write about it, and review it objectively. Without going into this band's history, I want to give this album one more plug, or last statue before Pearl Jam releases their next album, which should be out in February of next year.
In the past year, I noticed some pretty crappy reviews of this album, and I've wondered why, because this album is my favorite from Pearl Jam's odyssey. Looking back on Ten, Vs., and Vitalogy, it is positive to say that No Code is an extremely unique sounding compilation, not really resembling or linked to it's siblings. Being a long-time fan, I read whatever is written about Pearl Jam and their music. I've read some reviews referring to "No Code" as sloppy, jaded, incomplete, and the ultimate pisser "it's just not Pearl Jam". All I have to say is, "So what?".
Putting aside the fact that I'm a fan, I decided to take a stab at describing this album in detail, for those of you who read the reviews and said, "Awww screw it, I'm not buying this album if it's not classic Pearl Jam". I personally want to assure those that "No Code" is "classic Pearl Jam".
This is a band that struggled with many things from their onset in the music industry to the present. Some like to hear the "unique" sound that comes from a certain band. Well, Pearl Jam's unique sound is still there, it's just growth. When things grow, they don't look the same after time, and when music grows, it doesn't sound the same either. And those of you may be saying, "I like it when a band's music sounds the same all the time." To those of you who think that way, then "No Code" is "Not For You". For those of you who are interested in the growth that is illustrated in this album, follow me here.
First off, "No Code" is "Full of Code". It comically consists of 13 songs, and the packaging is constructed in a flip-up pull-out fashion. The outside is adorned with many pictures, all up to your interpretation. Inside are black & white pictures of the studio, a song list, a map and credits. There are compartments above, one side for the CD, and one side containing a packet of mock-up polariod pictures, which have been allegedly taken with a forensic camera. Each picture if flipped over has lyrics on the back for certain songs on the album. Every CD bought has a different packet of pictures , and every tape has a different cover with a little book inside. I wasn't able to find an actual album, so I can't tell what the deal is there. The concept of "No Code" in this package sites the name Jerome Turner. It has been rumored that Jerome is code for Eddie Vedder, and that was confirmed in Pearl Jam's Rumor Pit #25.
The group's lineup for those who have been hiding under a rock since 1992 , goes as follows: Mike McCready , Jeff Ament , Stone Gossard , Jack Irons , Eddie Vedder .
Let's talk about the music now.
The first song is Sometimes, a very delicate song which demonstrates some fine guitar playing. Eddie whimpers this song through with a soft voice, and he tells us a story which is a view on a simple approach to life. This song drifts off and just when you start to feel at peace, Hail, Hail slams in with strong chords. Wakes the listener up very quickly. Classic Pearl Jam. And when I listened to this album for the first time, I spilled hot tea on myself when this song started up. Advice for Pearl Jam music buyers, listen attentively and don't get lost in the music the first time around, or you may have to replace an expensive piece of furniture like I did, my couch. That tea stain just wouldn't come out!
Anyway, getting back to Hail, Hail, which was played on the radio too much in the beginning and now they don't play it at all, is a rocking tune with very strong riffs and percussion, and contains the mysterious lyric line "Are you woman enough to be my man, bandaged hand in hand". This song drifts off very nicely, introducing the next song, Who You Are. This song was the first single released on this album, and it has an Eastern feel to it. A very philosophical song, trying to answer the infamous question "who you are, you are who, who you are". Great answer! A very simple song, done up very well with a simple beat, great chords, an calming bass, and great drum playing. In My Tree rumbles up next, slowly, growing, swelling like the ocean. "Up here so high I start to shake, Up here so high the sky I scape". This song will take you on a great trip, if you liked to climb trees when you were younger. Being younger, "And my eyes peeled both wide open, and I got a glimpse, of my innocence, got back my innocence Still got it, still got it." Cool song!
Don't it make you smile? The next song, Smile, is very reminiscent of Neil Young's style of music. Neil definitely wore off on this band, and this sweet song has simple lyrics and a flowing melody. You'll find yourself swaying to this one, and you'll feel a smile coming on, it can't be helped :) Another gentle song, Off He Goes, graces the most beautiful guitar playing I've ever experienced, with a touching story that Eddie portrays with a steady yet smooth voice. After Eddie finishes the story, the guitars take over and sweep along in combination with each other, and you can only picture the story in your head. You can catch Eddie humming a bit, and then the song completes itself.
Another heavy jamming tune, Habit races in and the familar horse-vocal runs through with a little help from the band at some points. "Speaking as a child of the 90's", Eddie never thought we'd habit. Excellent lead, rhythm, bass, and drums just jam this song to a fade out. A Clapton-like echo that will guarantee to raise goose-bumps, Red Mosquito starts out with someone saying "Line One Mighty Fine", the sound of a drumstick clap, and then WHAM! Classic Pearl Jam. It's cools down while Eddie sings softly each verse, but starts right up again, continues to jam for a while, just the right amount of time, and the melody changes close to the end to a dream state while they utter "If I had known then what I know now".
Lukin seeks up on you, and then sounds quite hard. Of course, no one knows what Eddie barks through this short little ditty, but it vibrates an awesome bass and drum sound, which ends like the way a Harley starts up :) Another very thoughtful song, Present Tense follows, "Do you see the way that tree bends, does it inspire?", simply put this is a powerful song, an encompassing trip. A fragile vocal and a twangy bass feel dropped underneath, mixed with soft riffs and elegant drums. Stone Gossard's debut with vocals pops up next with the perky little tune, Mankind, which still feels like Classic Pearl Jam for some strange reason, where Stone not only demonstrates his talent with the strings, but his voice as well. "What's Got the Whole World Fakin' ", he asks us. He has a quite relaxing voice, and nice change from Eddie. Bravo!
A very haunting, I'm Open, is the second to the last song, where Eddie simple narrates a quick little story, "So this is what it's like to be an adult". In this song, Eddie seems to harmonize with himself. His deep voice is very chilling. "Dream up a new self, for himself." And lastly, a lullaby, Around the Bend. A precious song almost as sweet as Yellow Ledbetter, but this song is unique, so calming. "I lie still, you move, I'd send you off around the bend", and at the end of each verse, Eddie holds the note on the word "bend" and as the music drifts off, you can hear him breath in. The perfect cradlesong, one that many women who are mothers or wish to become mothers would love to play or sing to their newborns. The sound of a piano exists in this song which reflects the romance of the sounds from the 50's and 60's. Truly an exquisite end to the meaningful collection of songs on this album.
Now I'm not being biased here. I gave this album out to friends who like Pearl Jam and friends who don't listen to Pearl Jam. All can back with the same answer. This is a great release! I can't understand or find where this album is sloppy in anyway. If anything, it's the most strongest and most complete albums in Pearl Jam's legacy. Several words can be used to describe this album's sound: ponderous, enthusiastic, solid, suggestive, sexy, bluesy, thoughtful, heavy, deep, warm....but NOT jaded!
Anyone who has followed this band can see that these five guys are growing up, and they're taking their music with them along the way. But don't believe me, find out for yourself. So now that I've set the record straight on "No Code", let's see what February has in store for Pearl Jam fans. This next album promises to rock our sock off. I can hardly wait!
For more information about Pearl Jam, please visit Sony Music's Pearl Jam Synergy Web Page at http://www.music.sony.com/Music/ArtistInfo/PearlJam/.