I didn’t save “Green Disease” as the last of the Riot Act tracks on purpose, but I have to admit I’m more fond of it than most from that record. It’s like a champion welterweight, even a flyweight (balsaweight? croutonweight?), punchy and upbeat but swift, with a trademark Vedder guitar riff but a few surprises as well. The biggest draw for me is subtle: the insertion of little series of three notes in the second half of the first verse. “Green Disease” is pretty much in standard 4/4 time, so the slight rhythmic play of three picked notes within that framework adds both quirk and propulsion, as well as more melodic and tonal dimension. For such a brief song that is relatively uncluttered by heavy instrumentation, there’s a lot of variety from start to finish. After the intro, the verses kick in and sound almost in a different key. The verses in turn never culminate in traditional choruses. The sections that begin “Well, I guess” are more like a second series of different verses. It’s an odd structure for a poppy little song, and one that I believe is unique to Pearl Jam’s catalog.
As far as the lyrical concept of the song is concerned, I’m less convinced. Purposeful, ideologically driven greed is indisputably a huge concern in contemporary business and politics (when isn’t it?), and Vedder keeps his rhetoric appropriate concise for his quick tune, but the language is still mostly flat and uninteresting. The best imagery in the song is of “weeds with big leaves / stealing light from what’s beneath” which neatly defines the idea of “green disease”, providing a visual foothold for listeners’ imaginations and an apt comparison to corporate leeches that become inordinately rich off of the work of others while still maintaining the delusion that they’re somehow pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. Had the song continued along those lines, or kept some consistency even across its musical and structural leaps, “Green Disease” might have been even better. Oh, and could someone please explain the fat man’s dream about “choking Ti leaves”?