Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
A couple of years ago, Pearl Jam released a remastered copy of their first album, Ten. It was cleaner than the mixes for the original, and sounded more akin to albums like Vs., and I hated it. Ten is a muddy grunge album that was perfect for the birth of international acknowledgment of the Seattle sound from the late 80s / early 90s. But from their second album onward, Pearl Jam was no longer really a grunge band, they were just an arena rock band. The engineering and production needed to sound different because they were trying to be different. The whole album wasn't locked into Vedder's trauma. Sure, there were some remnants, but it was mostly time to grow as a band, and that meant rinsing off the Wishkah.
Vs is a great shedding of Ten's skin. It doesn't sound like it was recorded underwater. The heavy songs crunch, the acoustic songs feel lighter. It just breathes easier, sounding more like a successful rock band than a home recording. A bunch of us in my dorm at school got this album the day it came out, and we all assumed "Go" was about Kurt Cobain, who died within days of the song's first live performance, which Vedder had dedicated to him. It felt very visceral and real, even though the band claimed it was actually about Eddie Vedder's truck.
I also love this album because Verses is the name of a great album by Mission Of Burma. FOr the better part of a year, I lived with one of their guitarists and his family, and when he first heard me play this he started laughing about how Mission Of Burma was SO MAD that Pearl Jam was using "their" album title until one of them saw it in a store and realized that they were using one of the many other definitions and spellings of the word.
As much as I love the crashing intro of the original album, for my reimagining, I like starting with the steady drums, and the strumming guitar of Daughter. This is Not The Previous Album. Sure, the lyrics are in-line with "Jeremy" and "Why Go", but there is a lilt that would make no sense on Ten. Even Vedder's voice is smoother, even when he's screeching riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiise above.
Vedder's voice starts to go down a long hallway at the end of the previous track, and the drums kick in louder. The bass line gets more staccato. The vocals start to circle in the background. The music gets super intense before Vedder kicks in with He won the lottery / when he was born / Took his mother's white breat to his tongue. WMA (White Male American) about white police violence would have been controversial in the 21st century, when fragile White America was wringing their hands about supporting crooked police officers. In the 90s, skittish parents were too worried about Ice-T and Body Count's "Cop Killer" to notice the message in this track. There's a whirling dervish quality to the back end of this song where Vedder and the background vocals keep echoing wordless chants that is so far beyond what the band seemed capable of with Ten that it took Teenage Me a while to really get into this song.
The bass gets all kind of heavy before everything else explodes around Go. Whether it's about Cobain, another friend, a truck, whatever, it's an intense plead of what one of my teachers could call "Chant Rock". There is a wicked guitar solo before Vedder goes into a violent almost scat mode in his vocals before returning to the four word chorus, and the song crescendoes into the first space on this album for an intake of breath.
That breath is a sharp inhale before we get to Glorified G, an anti-gun rocker based on the band discussing their drummer's recent decision to buy a gun in fact /I got two. The guitars howl. Eddie screeches, and just when the song lulls,
Animal climbs out of a potential pause. Still screechy and raw both vocally and guitar-wise. This is the studio track that most sounds like Pearl Jam playing live, as we will discover in a few tracks. It's not really a surprise that this was the two in the one-two punch opening of the actual album, after "Go".
Early nineties bands got a lot of flack for mumbling their way through lyrics, and Vedder was no exception. For many years, I thought this song was dealing with drinking and driving because I thought Vedder was not about to give thanks for a bottle dry but it turns our he was not about to give thanks or apologize. The lyrics are just so much clearer now that I see them in my Rearview Mirror.
I love the echoey twang on the guitar as Eddie Vedder schools us on Rats. They are, according to Vedder, so much better than humans. And he may not be wrong. I also enjoy that the concluding lyric to this song is actually the opening line of Michael Jackson's "Ben". That's a crossover one would not expect based on the content of the two albums.
My first digression from the contents of the actual album is probably their most famous non-album track. Their cover of Crazy Mary from the Sweet Relief album made to help artist Victoria Williams, who provides spooky background vocals, pay medical bills after she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. This is a haunting, gorgeous song, and I appreciate that the production on this track is on par with Pearl Jam's actual albums, and doesn't sound thrown together. The breakdown near the climax before Vedder sings over a barely strummed guitar before the rest of the instruments come in is so far from the technique used on Ten, that this seems like an entirely different band.
A drum beat pounds through the close of "Crazy Mary". Vedder chants around an occasional guitar strum, and Neil Young playing a pump piano. The Long Road is the b-side to "I've Got ID", the single from Neil Young and Peral Jam's collaboration Merkinball. This is one of the few tracks that will show up on a discography twice, as there is a much different version coming on a future album, but I really love the way the guitars seem to tide in on the latter half of the track. Also, pump organ on a Pearl Jam album? Sure.
Another non-album track, Face Of Love, featuring Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, is from the Dead Man Walking Soundtrack. It's another large musical departure from any previous track as it contains sitar and Ali Khan's soaring vocals, which mesh really well with Vedder's.
Back to traditional sounding Pearl Jam songs with their cover of The Dead Boys' Sonic Reducer. It sounds like Pearl Jam playing early punk. There's no mistaking Mcready and Ament's guitars on this track, which cement as early nineties, but the background vocals sound very late 70s punk.
If I had to pick one moment from the history of MTV's music awards show that enahnced my opinion of a band, it would be Pearl Jam's live performance of Keep On Rockin' In The Free World with the song's author, Neil Young. It's controlled chaos. It's corporate rebellion. I never thought for a moment that their equipment thrashing wasn't theatrical more than actual angst but I still loved every second. There's a studio version of this track, but saying that it pales in comparison to the live version is being incredibly polite. This album contains the MTV performance.
Returning to the actual album tracks, Blood crunches and wacka-wacka-wacka-wackas its guitars against Vedder shredding his throat to the lyrics.
Let's take it down several notches. A quietly strumming acoustic guitar, a relaxed Vedder, maybe even sitting down, crooning hearts and thoughs they fade / fade away during Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town. Memory like fingerprints are slowly raising. Much more contemplative than the other songs on the album, it's not exactly a quiet ballad, but it's a definite change of pace.
I've pointed out many of the tracks on this album that would have sounded alien on Ten. Dissident is not one of them. This is soaring vocals, muddy production Pearl Jam wailing out of the early nineties. I love it, but if it came on the radio as a new track now, I probably wouldn't love it.
We go back to Merkinball for another Neil Young collaboration, I've Got ID. Along with "The Long Road", these two tracks were cut off othe Neil Young album, Mirror Ball, which is an amazing Pearl Jam album that has Neil Young as the lead singer. It doesn't appear on this discography but will definitely be in a Neil Young discography, if I ever put one of those togehter. The jangle of guitars and the slow fade out of Vedder's voice are fantastic.
We close out this album with the closer from the actual "Vs". I played the shit out of Indifference when I was in high school. It's so self-indulgent, airy, and gloomy. It definitely fits in the same vein with "Release", which closed Ten. It's a great nineties apathy ballad, asking How much difference does it make?
Apart from Flood and Apollo 18, I don't often listen to TMBG albums. Mostly, I like a fair amount of songs, but some of them just ... don't affect me. I can't remember the last time I listened to their early work, until I put together this combination of their first two albums: They Might Be Giants and Lincoln. It's called Stovepipe Hat because I prefer Abe to Nebraska.
She's An Angel is a nice little surreal story about love in the time of anxiety, which is all times when you're the subject of a TMBG song. And who wouldn't want to fall in love at a dog show. 1.) You get to be at a dog show. 2.) You meet someone cool enough to also be at a dog show AND they fall in love with you? Best Meet Cute Story ever. Also, props for not having to throw your body off a building.
The song I am most grateful for having an excuse to listen to more often is Kiss Me, Son Of God, which really sounds like it belongs on Flood. The blood of the exploited working class is also one of those things that I hear is delicious, but I'm just not into tasting myself.
The countrified Number 3 is the most Throwaway Novelty song that I like from their early work. I vacillate between really enjoying the hoe-down quality to regretting including this song on the album. It's, at least, short.
Ana Ng sounds like it comes much later in their discography. There's so much narrative in this song. It's a short story disguised as a peppy "alternative" 80s song.
My grandfather owned boats. Not just things that floated on the water (which he only owned one at a time, unless you count dinghies), but also giant cars that my family always referred to as boats. The kind of cars you could fit a dozen children in the back of. Boat Of A Car reminds me of the few road trips we took in those vehicles.
I was tempted to put TMBG's Homestar Runner songs around Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head but they'll come on a later album. I like any song that makes me think of muppets. Even if it has an 80s drum breakdown.
Pencil Rain actually sounds like it could have come from The Smashing Pumpkins post-Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness period. But without the whiney Billy Corgan voice. It's the harp / keyboard with the horns in the background. But I really enjoy the whole concept of pencil rain. Sometimes I gotta write things down, and am without writing implement.
If there's a better song title than Youth Culture Killed My Dog on a TMBG album, I can't think of it. I like the title so much that I included it on the album even though the song is a bit too All Over The Place in tone for me to get into. The Michael Jackson hee-hees are fun, and the return of the word puppet are great but the overall senitment of the song is pretty bleurgh.
Lie Still Little Bottle is the closest thing on this album to a Tom Waits song (he's the other artist I'm reimagining albums for right now). I would totally buy both an album where TMBG covered Tom Waits songs, and one where Tom Waits covered TMBG songs. The fact that neither of these albums exist fills me with sadness.
The plaintive narrator of I've Got A Match brings me disproportionate feelings of joy. If I were wearing a stupid looking hat, I would take it off at their command.The plucky strings on this song are also made of expansive joy.
Is Chess Piece Face the inspiration for TMBG's Apollo 18 album? Because it definitely has the appropriately fuzzy guitar and echoey vocals. It is the first song on the album that made my Dudefriend make a sour face. Again, though, it's mercifully short.
I was once bitten by a Rabid Child when I was a teenager. I worked in a summer camp when a tiny vampire who was mad at a different adult, grabbed my head, pulled it toward him and bit me on the neck. This song references the Chess Piece Face from the previous song. Though, I couldn't explain why without looking at the lyrics.
I was not a Rabic Child, but you could argue I was occasionally feral, and during those feral times, I did love playing with a Piece Of Dirt. I am fortunate enough to be immune from the wiles of the voices that bother and influence the narrator of this song.
You made my bed / Now you have to sleep in it might be my favorite lyric on this album. It's near the beginning of Stand On Your Own Head which has a return to the hoe-downiness foundearlier on the album.
They'll Need A Crane is the second best song about cranes I think of. Jason Mraz gets top honors there. But I do enjoy the bounciness of the repetition in this song.
I don't know why I so much want to make a video for Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes but I do. Dancing skeletons? People with heads caving in from happiness? Dominoes? The crunchy guitars. Random screaming at the end. Sign me up and give me a camera and some SAG unapproved extras.
Speaking of screaming. Shoehorn With Teeth is a terrifying concept. I don't know what else to say about it. Deathlok should have covered this track.
It brings me stupid joy to put a song called Don't Let's Start near the end of an album.It's another echoey song with a very late 80s/early 90s guitar riff repeating in the background.
Another contender for my favorite lyric on the album: If it wasn't for disappointment / I wouldn't have any appointments. Snowball In Hell is a fun, talky way to close out this album.