The Sound of ‘Pearl Jam’

Pearl Jam – During their 20th Anniversary (Eddie Vedder on the far right)

Music resonates with memories, and it recreates images long lost and gone in the sands of time. Hans Zimmer can stimulate a visualization of geometrical symmetry, with objects of different shapes and contours in free fall within a four dimensional space. He can provoke an imagination of your very own self at the focal point of the intersection between two lines, you can feel as if you can view the path traveled to get to this point, and the projected path you will potentially travel in time. You can almost visualize the geometrical shapes buoyant in unison. For an odd reason, it is what I visualize when I hear to ‘Dream is Collapsing’, from Inception.

Great artists have a sound, a unique sound that captures the very essence of their music. With time and evolution, their music might change, but the essence remains the same. It has to, and at least for the great ones, it almost always does.

Pearl Jam: Where can I even begin to describe?

I used to think Creed sounds like Pearl Jam, and I used to get berated mercilessly in Ann Arbor for such a dense observation. With time, I grew into Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, and I realized they sound nothing like Creed. Creed is at best, a substitutable imposter if you are stuck in an island craving for Pearl Jam, and all that has remained from the cast away shipwreck is a sad old Creed album.

Memories of south Chicago, a really warm summer with a theoretical math internship (Argonne), good old boys in an ever so small apartment inside the bushes, a soaring childhood crush ending up in a heart break, all come flooding back when I hear to Pearl Jam. I think it was Wes (still remember Wes, and how kind he was) who introduced me to Pearl Jam during summer 2008. I used to fly to New York and Connecticut to watch slam finals with my best mate, and we used to hear to Pearl Jam on the long, convoluted and incomparable drives from La Guardia (New York) to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Of course, a drive into downtown Manhattan eventually ensues, before the first ball is struck, and before the first beer is opened. What followed Peal Jam was the quite incomparable Federer and Nadal Wimbledon 2008 final – at least that is what is left of, in my memory. Life was different, and on slam final days, both of our lives came to a stand still.

To me, Pearl Jam defined ‘Authenticity’. When you heard to them, you knew they were for real. In more ways than one, when Eddie started playing he made me stop everything, be completely silent, and listen to him. You knew they had a sound, which converged classic good old rock, and grunge rock. Their sound gravitated more towards classic rock rather than grunge rock, almost a symmetrical contrast to Nirvana. Pearl Jam and Nirvana were contemporaries in the time of early nineties, riffin’ rock as it should be, they always had an internal competition as they both were founded in Seattle.

Pearl Jam lived the breathed on lyrics, and at times politicized lyrics, smooth as cognac classic riffs, the drums not so much as holding the song together but blending themselves into the song quite nonchalantly, and the quite incomparable deep and resounding voice of Eddie Vedder. Nothing stands out, as all parts of the ensemble work in unison – and that is their innate sound. The guitar sounds how it would sound when you play it flawless with such nonchalant ease. Again, the riffs were immaculate, with economy (almost no moving parts) being their biggest strength.

Pearl Jam was not some overrated Finnish metal band, whose record you can hear to for ten minutes before stopping it. The riffs never sounded strained, and they never sounded as if someone is playing a riff essentially a few notches above their capacity, fingers bleeding due to exertion on stage. As Rachel leaves to Paris in the final episode of Friends, its hard to escape ‘Yellow Ledbetter’ in the background.

Rearviewmirror sits ever so proudly on top of my shelf, and it is one of the very few two part albums (two CD) I can hear and completely get lost unto itself from the first song to last. It must be the memories I talked about above. I have always loved Eddie’s left field choices in terms of covers. Never before, have I enjoyed a song as much as his rendition of ‘Redemption Song’ from Bob Marley. There are few blends between western grunge rock and south Asian musical instruments that are better than ‘Long Road’, performed by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder. It is as mystical as its transcendental. It tugs away at you, each time you hear the flawless blend of its rendition. You cannot help but notice Eddie decrease the pace of his words a bit more, and softens his voice in an attempt to blending in with the tabla ensemble.

With the unenviable task of picking three songs from such an exquisite lifetime catalogue, I pick Long Road, Immortality and Jeremy Spoke. Authenticity – that is indeed the Sound of Pearl Jam. As Eddie says himself, “I have wished for so long … how I wish for you again …”