Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
So far, my reimagined discographies have been catalogs of some of my favorite artists. People I've listened to since high school, or, in the case of The Weeknd, since I first heard their music. I'd listened to their albums repeatedly, and had a pretty good handle as to which songs would flow into which other songs, what shared a key, or a beat, or which syncopation would make a cool transition. While I was working on the Pearl Jam discography, there were several tracks that they made with Neil Young. I *think* I like Neil Young. I like what I've heard from him, but I'm far from an expert. He comes from the time period where my dad was really into music, but my dad is more Motown and the Beatles than Righteous Brothers and Buffalo Springfield. Also, when I was in middle school one of the classic rock stations had an ad that swung at the other classic rock station, playing snippets of Neil Young, America, and Simon and Garfunkel while a voice said something akin to "Some classic rock stations think these songs rock. Not us, we only play Real Rock And Roll not your dad's wuss rock." And then they'd play Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" or Nelson's "After The Rain". I wondered if the DJs were making fun of the idea of Testosterock, but then I never did hear Neil Young, America, or Simon and Garfunkel on that station. But so much Rush.
I keep meaning to give the Young discography a focused listening but I've never gotten around to it.
That ended Saturday. I had all of the albums already on my harddrive, including his work with Crosby Stills and Nash, and Buffalo Springfield. It was just a matter of sitting down and absorbing it.
I'm still not at an expert. This is going to be a discography for people, like me, who want to know more Neil Young music, but are okay with not listening to all of the over fifty albums that he's been a part of. I had to really skip around his early discography because I really don't enjoy the soft rock of that period. Whether it's the lingering effect of that radio ad from the early 90s or that it's the sort of music from the soundtracks to a million terrible movies. The three Buffalo Springfield albums made me wonder if I even liked music anymore. But there were at least two tracks from each album that I really enjoyed. This first album is what I've cobbled together from them.
I am going to skip a ton of "classic tracks" and hits. I'm sorry. If you're already a Neil Young fan, you know them, and don't need me to tell you what's good and what's not. This is for the people who feel like they should know more about Neil Young but aren't 100% sure that they need to.
The Beatles weren't the only group making experimental rock and changing the game, but they were so successful at their endeavors that any time I hear a 1960s band being creative with production or string overdubs, I think of it as being Beatlesque. Expecting To Fly is a Buffalo Springfield song that feels like it would fit right into a White Album B-sides collection. It's fake fade out then resurgence of strings before it properly dissipates is like a symphonic easy listening "Helter Skelter". I think it's a pretty good intro track, even though it is Not Indicative of the rest of the album's sound.
Crunching out of that track is Neil Young's greatest achievement. Ohio. Not appearing on an official album until it the Greatest Hits collections started, Young recorded this with Crosby Stills Nash And Young when the Kent State shooting was fresh. I tend not to enjoy protest songs, as they usually have sentimentality or else a false call for a revolution that they're not prepared to be involved with. I didn't know anything about the Kent State shooting when I first heard this song. But it made me ask questions. The guitar is way to hard for the vocals (and it's not really that hard) but you can feel that, at least in Young's vocals, he's more interested in the urgency and sincerity of the lyrics than the harmonies.
Keeping with the CSNY era, but with more a of a focus on the harmonies, we get Deja Vu. Young is only on guitar and background vocals here but that was one of his main roles in his early career. He was only the occasional frontman, often for Stephen Stills (in both Buffalo Springfield and CSNY). I'm not going to put many non-Young fronted songs on this album, but I enjoy this one, and it is fun to hear Young slightly further down in the mix.
The Last Trip To Tulsa is the first pure Neil Young song on this album. Stephen Stills isn't anywhere on this track. Just Young and his guitar, when he's at his most intimate best. I do have a hard time hearing this and not thinking of Jimmy Fallon cosplaying as Neil Young in the early 2010s. But this is classic Bob Dylan style singer songwriting. There's a distinct narrative focus rather than verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus. He even goes meta with talking about being a folk singer, which is the most folk singery thing folk singers do. Also, like several Dylan tunes of the 1960s, it could be cut in half and be a much more interesting song. But folk singers tend to be novelists compared to pop singers' flash fiction. The quality of recording makes this feel like a particularly good open mic performance rather than an album track but this contributes to the authenticity that Young seemed to always strive for.
We move from guitar to the piano but we keep the ballady storytelling as Here We Are In The Years builds us back into a full band (though it is from Young's first solo album). It almost feels like a Carole King song, and the paino pushes us right into the next track,
Our House. This is one of the few CSNY songs that I'm very familiar with, although I did not know it was a CSNY track until I listened to their first album this weekend. I put it on because it was so familiar and catchy, if very cheesy, and didn't notice until I was writing this paragraph that Neil Young is completely absent on this track. No vocals, no guitar. He sat this Graham Nash song out. Oops. I really enjoy Young but I guess, if I'm going to subscribe to his authenticity, I should include at least one song from this period that feels like a snub. I promise that all future albums will contain Neil on every track. This song is catchy but it ain't "Ohio".
Returning to the focus of Neil, is The Loner. This was Young's first solo single. It doesn't have the breathiness of some the other Young vocals so it feels more in-step with the guitar here. This is a more relaxed song than "Ohio" both in its writing and performance but it's clearly the same artist.
Neil Young and his contemporaries are often credited with creating the Southern Rock genre. Not country but adjacent to the already existing country scene but with more of a Rock focus. I Am A Childis a pretty good indicator of that style. It's a Buffalo Springfield track with Young on lead vocals, and a twang to the guitar, and a bit of country sounding harmonica.
And while we're on Buffalo Springfield, you can not have an album with any Buffalo Springfield and not have For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey, What's That Sound) on it. Young isn't on vocals here, but his echoey guitar is what makes this track a classic. Those two reverberating notes make up for the fact that whatever is happening in this song ain't exactly clear.
The guitar intensifies as Young retakes the vocal spotlight in the Buffalo Springfield track Mr Soul. I believe it's illegal to even make an imaginary Neil Young album that doesn't have a song where he talks about how dissatisfied he is with the music industry. It would be like me working a shift in a comic book store without complaining about the kind of people who buy comic books. I haven't included every Neil Young Buffalo Springfield song, as some of them are ... not his best work. But this one is head nodding good. I even let it fully fade out.
Cinnamon Girl is another crunchy guitar riff song. This is the first song on this album with Crazy Horse as the backing band. Young's tenor is such a weird contrast to the guitar on this track (as is often the case with his earlier, electric guitar focused songs) but I love that disparity enough that I'm including this song, despite its really forgettable This Is About A Girl lyrics.
I say that, and then immediately include another song about a girl. This time it's a Country Girl, and it's a ballad instead of a rocker. It's got Crosby, Stills, and Nash on backing vocals and other instruments but it's definitely a Neil Young song. It doesn't have the narrative focus of his solo work. It's more about evoking a feeling than telling a story, but I like it as a bit of an echo of the opening track, even though it's a completely different band (except, well, Young and Stills). I find the background vocals get really sour near the end, and I'm not sure whether its intentional. THis is another of the rare songs where I allow it to completely fade out before the next track, though this is more because I couldn't find a track that meshed well with the ending rather than that I thought listeners needed a moment to bask in the ending.
Another CSNY song, Carry On carries us toward the closing track. It's actually the opening track from the first CSNY album, and is made up of two unreleased Buffalo Springfield songs. I'm not sure how much Young is involved in this track. If he is present vocally, he's buried in the mix.
We close out with a solo piece, The Old Laughing Lady. This is along the lines of "Last Trip To Tulsa" as there is a clear narrative to the story, and Young gets his sentimental croon on. It also ends with background vocalists singing the word "Ohio" which feels like a callback to the second track, though it was written a couple of years earlier.
I enjoyed putting this together, but I'll admit that I'm more excited about the next few reimagined albums, as I think Young got better as his career went on, which is rarely the case with musicians who find early success. Next up is the era where he was most popular, and I'm guessing it will result in a much more focused album.
Yesterday, the Super Deluxe version of Sign O' The Times was released. Nine honking discs worth of 1987ish Prince. It was, of course, Too Much. Yea, yea, yea, Prince has a vault's worth of unreleased material. Sure, he was a perfectionist and control freak, so there are a ton of alternate versions not just to the songs we already love, but to songs we haven't even heard. And, ok, so there have been bootlegs of a ton of songs that needed to be officially released with better mastering. But there is some absolute chaff on these albums that you don't need to sift through.
This album is intended to show Prince in transition. Goodbye Revolution, hello inklings of The New Power Generation. There are a ton of different ideas for albums that run through this. It's not as All Over The Place as The Vault or some of the albums coming up in this discography. I think this has an album feel to it, but it's an album evolving. I will be listening to this more often than the later Prince albums, even though it's filled with songs that Prince didn't deem worthy of releasing. It is an album that slaps. Right in the face.
In a few entries, I'm going to start trash talking Yoga Prince, the soft music with the occasional inspirational mumbo jumbo lyrics. Flutes, sound effects, rattling noises. It's insufferably bland. This album starts out with many of those elements BUT not in a bland way. Visions is a jazz piano luller but it's engaging, and leads us into Prince informing the Revolution-era band how their next song is gonna go down.
Power Fantastic starts off in a 1940s noir mode that Prince will attack again several times in the future. The instrumental here is perfection and leads us into the falsetto Prince the world needs. He's breathy and ballady and, because this is a live in the studio recording, not supported by a guiding track or overly produced. This is just his voice at its purest with a noir funk track supporting him. It's glorious. It's probably the best use of flute in any Prince song.
Climbing out of the chillfunk is the much heavier riffage of Witness 4 The Prosecution. The lyrics are almost completely forgettable but the heavy guitar and the background chorus screaming Witness! are here to save us all. There is some serious NPG energy being amassed in this song.
Prince has a few songs that flirt with reggae, and with slim exceptions, they mostly don't work. There's Something I Like About Being Your Fool, though, is a nice sunny riff with very 1970s tinny horns and Prince vocals that sound effortless and plain compared to most of his work, but they don't sound uninspired.
Strap in. "There's Something I Like About Being Your Fool" ends with a return to the heavy riff that flows perfectly into Prince screaming about Ice Cream (which, yes, please, every day) during the twelve minute long, James Brown-esque Soul Psychodelicide. I probably should have edited this down, as it's hella repetitive, and I cooked and ate half of my lunch while this song was playing, but it's just such a peppy burner that I don't mind it's egregious length.
But, seriously, it's long. I paired it with the title track, Everybody Want What They Don't Got, because the latter is short and musically antithetical. Where "Soul Psychodelicide" is 1970s James Brown, "Everybody Want What They Don't Got" could have been a late 70s/early 80s Billy Joel song. The production is murkier, the synth and horns sound like they were recorded while floating in a particularly filthy bathtub. But it also sounds like something a teenager who grew up loving 1970's children's cartoon music might have recorded when they were fifteen or sixteen.
Sticking in the 70s, but speeding up the piano, we have And That Says What. An instrumental shoulder dancing rag.
Train pulls out of the peppiness with a definite late-Revolution feel. Prince still loves you, baby, but he won't stand in your way if you need to get on a train to get away from his Purple Creepiness. The near But Not Quite literal train beat in the background, and the literal train horns works in this track's favor in a way that Prince usually can't pull off (I'm looking at you overuse of clock noise effects in his 21st century output.)
We disembark the train to arrive at one of the many songs Prince wrote for Bonnie Raitt in the 1980s. I Need A Man does sound like it would have fit perfectly on Nick Of Time or Luck Of The Draw. As does Jealous Guy, the next track. I would love to hear Raitt tracks on a professionally produced version of these songs (there's a grungey mid-production track floating around Youtube), but the Prince vocals work really well on these.
From Bonnie Raitt to Miles Davis, we go for Can I Play With U. There could stand to be more Miles on this track but I love that the collaboration took place. There are plenty of articles on how much Davis respected Prince, and you should read them. I'm just glad they had a mutual love society going on. This track would have been insane to see performed live.
Rising out of the jazz is the ethereal background vocals of All My Dreams, a very early 90s produced intro to a Revolution-era backing track with some cool Prince vocal effects. This doesn't sound quite like any other Prince song I can think of, but it is unquestionably purple. It's just fun/nothing ethereal before becoming very NPG with the slowed down Prince vocals that he would use extensively on Rainbow Children.
The Undertaker album is one of my favorite Prince side projects that didn't get officially released. I just love the blues feel. Blanche, while not precisely bluesy would have felt right at home on that album. One of the rare Prince songs that I could imagine people line dancing to, and having it make me smile instead of cringe.
Forever In My Life is practically the same song as Blanche but with different lyrics and a more piano focus rather than twangy guitar. I know this song is actually on the real Sign O' The Times album, but it didn't make the cut on my version, and I like the early vocal track from the new release of the album more than I like the original. I usually enjoy the loud fuzzy bass guitar in Prince songs, but it really conflicts with the lyrics for "Forever In My Life". I'm glad this cleaner version of the song did find a home on an album, though.
Wally is probably the oddest inclusion on this album. It's a letter to a friend about a bad breakup. It's not Prince's usual tone when he's talking about his prowress with the ladies, and I love his repeated mention of Wally's glasses. With it's da-dee-dahs and it's cool attitude, it feels more silly than deeply personal. And it's a nice alternative silly to the silliest track on Sign O' The Times, "Starfish And Coffee".
A bunch of songs on the back half of this album would make good closers. Love And Sex is no exception. Eventually sped up and given to Sheila E, I really enjoy Prince's take. Mainly for the guitar's clash with the vocals, and how it's clanging bell ending perfectly segues into
the final track on the album, A Place In Heaven. I've included the Prince vocal version. Not because this is a Prince-focused album but because I don't think Lisa's vocals on this track are very interesting. This is such a great showcase for Prince's voice, and a perfect close to this album.
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.
I'm pretty much precisely the right age to love Pearl Jam, and understand why some others don't. I was fourteen when Ten came out, Vs seemed to come out immediately after, and had a different feel, then Vitalogy. They released three albums while I was in high school, and I loved all three, and convinced the record store I was working for that we should do a midnight opening for the release of No Code. It was not a huge success. But I still loved the band.
They faded out of my interest in the 21st century with less frequent albums, and less-focused writing. Their music sounded blander to me for a few years, returned to interesting, and then disappeared completely from my radar.
When the first track from their impening release showed up on Youtube, I was excited. I'm a little less excited with their second pre-release single, but I'm intrigued to see what they do with this album. In that spirit, I decided it was time to give a bit of a primer for people who loved the band but lost track, or people who are curious why so many GenXers still care about a grunge band in 2020.
The first album is way extended. I owned all the singles from the album, with all the B-Sides. I bought a bunch of Pearl Jam Bootlegs from record stores, including the legendarry Bad Radio Sessions of Eddie Vedder. I certainly haven't included all the material from that era. No weeping original version of "Betterman" or the Oh So 1991 "Bee Girl" song. But they had some fun non-album tracks, ad some interesting outtakes from Temple Of The Dog (which would be on my Chris Cornell discography, not Pearl Jam's).
This album is my version of a story hinted at by Vedder's lyrics. It starts from the idea of the song / video for "Jeremy" but takes it in different directions. It's not a story I would consider writing now. It's peak Angsty Teen In The 90s. But that was the album Ten. It was so suicidal. So contemplative. So what happens next. So the problems in my life aren't women's faults, and yet women and fathers are at the crux of them.
The bookending of this album is pretty essential to how I hear albums, and how I reorganize them. So I have preserved Once as the opening track, with it's slow climbing intro before the guitars crash in. If you want to read Vedder's story of the songs on this album, there are plenty of articles. That's not what I'm going to do here. This is a reimagining based on his lyrics. This opening track is our narrator, a teenager absolutely at the end of his tether. He's looking for anything to latch on to and get himself under control, but it is not happening. It's not hard to imagine the angry destructive sequences a video for this song would have.
There's a lot on this kid's mind as he gets on the bus to school, and he and his friends (not all sociopaths are loners) joke around about Dirty Frank the bus driver, saying that he's a serial killer and probably a cannibal. They don't seem to suspect what the main character of this story is up to.
State Of Love & Trust was one of the first Pearl Jam songs I heard, as it was on the Singles Soundtrack that my roommate and I each bought. It's how I was introduced to Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, The Smashing Pumpkins, Chris Cornell, Soundgarden, and Screaming Trees. The narrator is thinking of the awful things he's done, and listening to the voice inside (his) head. He's considering ending his own life instead of going through with massacring his school. And he decides to live.
One of the voices that helps him get through the situation is from a girl he met when he was briefly institutionalized. He doesn't even know what her name is. They talked once. She told him about being abused by her father, and how when she lashed out, her mother had her committed. How her mother wants her to "get better" and go home, but Why Go back, knowing she'l just be abused again? She decides her version of "getting better" will be different. Neither he nor we ever find out what happens to her. But he loved her, and imagines being with her again, and that keeps him moving forward.
"Why Go" fades beautifully into Black on both the original album, and this reimagining. Here the narrator imagines a romantic encounter with the girl from "Why Go", and gets flustered. So he goes outside to get some fresh air to clear his head. But it doesn't quite work, as he remembers that the second time he saw her, she didn't acknowledge him, and he doesn't know why.
Wash is still walking outside. Still thinking. Still wishing. Still will he. Still won't he. Still hormonal response to girl he doesn't really know, and yet knows her most intimate secret. Still isn't sure anything he's ever done is right. Still. Still.
Still walking. He reaches the school's Garden. How has he not run into everyone on his little walk around the school? How is he still thinking about this girl who probably hasn't thought of him in months? He decides the way back to her is violence. And he heads back towards the school.
He reaches the Porch and uses a payphone (Hey, it's 1991 here), and checks the messages on his machine (ibid). There are none. He decides he's going to go for it. Go into the school and make the news.
But he doesn't. The crux of this idea. The crux of the album. The video that changed how seriously kids myage watched videos was Jeremy, and in that video an abused kid decides to bring weapons to school and ends up killing himself in front of his horrified class. Things happen differently there. Our narrator isn't Jeremy, but he's in class with him. And they're not friends. But they're similar people. Only this Jeremy doesn't kill himself, but reads a story about killing himself in front of his class. I can't imagine that won't, at least, end up with him in the guidance counselor's office. He's not our concern, though. Jeremy goes off to live his best life. Meanwhile, the teen we've been following decides not to do anything. Today. Tomorrow is not a promise. But today, everybody lives. Nobody has to know what he never quite planned.
The kid goes back to the porch after class, debates whether it would be worth getting in trouble if he smoked a cigarette, and decides against it. He's thinking about that girl again. He's imagining them meeting outside of the hospital. A beach would be great. Yellow Ledbetter has him pndering whether (he's) the boxer or the bag.
He writes her off. In his head, of course. In real life, there's no real way to write off someone who probably hasn't thought of him. He grabs a bus, not a school bus, a city bus, to the beach to blow off some steam, and to Not Be Home. He needs to be on the beach so he can't hear her voice or her Footsteps in his head anymore. Instead, he ends up with the voice of his hospital assigned therapist talking to him. He confessed things to her that he wishes he hadn't but she'd been kinder than anyone else in the hospital. Still, she'd reported some things back to his family that he wishes she hadn't.
He walks into The Ocean to be dramatic. Not suicide dramatic. Floating in the ocean dramatic. Thinking about her again dramatic. But it's deliberate now. It's not voices. It's not hoping for any actualization. He's just drifting, and letting his mind unravel.
When I was in high school, my roommate had a mixtape from a friend called Windowsills. It was songs to listen to while being melodramatic and dreaming out a window. There were many references to suicide. And, while not being suicidal at all myself, I asked a bunch of people on my floor, what song made them think of suicide. That this didn't get me sent to a therpaist myself is remarkable. Deep was on my mix because it even references windowsills. For the purpose of this album, the kid is still in the ocean, diving down and swimming under water for as long as his breath holds. Then gasping back up into the air.
Breath is not about the gasping in the ocean. But about going home. About having skipped the last half of school and being pretty sure his horrid parents know. It's about it now being past curfew and his not having even done anything bad. No violence. No alcohol. He didn't even smoke. Just cut classes to calm himself, and take a dip in the ocean. And then he just walked home instead of taking a bus.
We leave him at the door, and see his father's view of the day Alone. His girlfriend has left him. Just like his wife left him. Because he's awful. And he knows he's awful. And he knows he's a lousy father. And he was an awful husband. And he might just be a awful person. And he walks around the town, and the beach, the same way his son did. And he saw him cutting class. And he saw him doing nothing destructive. And he went home. And he got there first. And he's just as suicidal.
The story that the teenager told the therapist? He knows that his father is not his father. That the guy that's been poorly raising him is just some guy his mother married. Some guy that was better than his real father was. That his real father is no longer Alive, that he will never get a reconciliation there. He remembers the conversation with his mother. How she left. How she left him with the man who doesn't know how to raise him.
The album ends here as the original album ends. Though I don't like how it flows out of "Alive", Release brings us to the kid sitting on a windowsill. (Which once again gets referenced in the song.) Once agan, he's considering suicide. He's considering the legacy of his dead father. He's considering the legacy of the man who's raising him. He's considering the mother who left, the stepmother who left, the father who left, the acting father who he wishes would leave. We don't get an answer about what happens to any of these people. We fade out to credits. Because it was the nineties, and everything was edgy and ambiguous, and dark.