Let the Records Play

•January 13, 2014 • 3 Comments

ImageIn trying to get to the bottom of my winter blues recently, I realized that I haven’t been making enough time for music in my life. After 25 years of more or less steady collection and consumption, the opportunities to sit down and listen to it seem fewer and fewer with each passing day. And I’m not doing myself any favors either; I listen to NPR on my commutes to and from work, and when I get home, playing with my baby daughter and catching up on the day’s events with my wife rightfully take precedence over immersing myself in an album. My grandiose plans of listening to and absorbing vinyl records in place of watching television have crumbled slightly, as my turntable has an unfortunate tic of getting ever so slightly faster over time, so that I have to practically take it apart every few months to tweak it again and hope to god I don’t break it while putting it back together. So the long and short of it is, I haven’t been letting the records play very much lately.

I should, of course, make time. And I feel better when I do. I listened to the Scud Mountain Boys’ comeback album in the car today, and it was vastly preferable, driving past snow-covered Vermont hills and barns, to the latest political scandals being beaten to death in the news. But at the same time, change is okay too. It’s okay to grow older, for priorities to shift, for the fields of fandom to lie fallow. Because being away from something lets you know how much it means to you when you finally come back to it.

“Let the Records Play,” judging from online fan response, seems like a divisive song. There’s something a little campy about it, something seemingly lightweight, that rubs some people the wrong way. It’s interesting to note that the moody “Pendulum” on the other hand (I enjoy both songs), appears to be the online favorite. If I had to mass psychoanalyze why, I’d say it’s because the dusk-lit, dare-I-say angsty “Pendulum” reminds people spiritually (if not sonically) of the band circa 1993. And I do believe a wide swath of rock and roll fandom, not just Pearl Jam fandom, has time periods that they just can’t let go of. It’s nostalgia for the days when you mined music as deeply as you could for direction, for meaning, for guidance, whenever those days happened to be. Some people can’t get over Led Zeppelin. Others insist on the Beatles being the band that no other can live up to. When I was 14 and obsessed with Pearl Jam, I thought they’d be it for me too, and I was excited to have found my band in this regard. It’s clear that a lot of people did. But with that obsession comes inevitable disappointment if a band lasts as longs as Pearl Jam has. And that disappointment is of course different for different people.

I’d bet that “Let the Records Play” disappoints a lot of people who think that rock music has to carry a certain kind of seriousness. When I first heard a clip of the song in one of Lightning Bolt‘s promotional videos, I thought it had a chance of being one of those serious songs. It started out with a weird, electric old-timey guitar figure that I’m shocked not a single writer has identified as coming straight out of the folk-blues “Sugar Baby.” Then it launched into a stomping blues pattern (with a few extra measures) that a lot of people stupidly thought was “inspired” by the Black Keys. Newsflash, kids, the Black Keys did not invent the electric blues. What the full version of the song revealed was even more bizarre than these two elements. It added in an odd, soft-shoe showtune style chorus that ends on an awkward suspended chord, and a bridge that is something else entirely. Stone Gossard was all over the place when he wrote this, and Ed, to his credit as the guy in the band who has the most say about which songs get finished (Gossard has said that he had a few more contenders, and was himself surprised that LTRP got picked), decided to have fun with it. It’s a fun song. And while it doesn’t have the “depth” that some people demand of Pearl Jam at every turn, it has its place on Lightning Bolt, an album that is restless and not content to settle in any one dimension of sound or song.

Ed said something in a 2013 interview about pop music being like fast food, or junk food–empty calories. I’ve thought about this metaphor a lot, even on my own. That songs that are goofy or half-serious or “light” or “pop” are disposable, tasty at first but will rot your teeth over time. I’m not so sure anymore. I think the metaphor might be that pop music (and I’m not really calling LTRP “pop music” here) is more like a sports car. It’s shiny, fun, but not really practical. It’s not going to get you up an icy hill in winter. And damn it all, I think our country’s music and media culture is fucked up because the attention is all on flash and sports cars and not on the sturdier, built-to-last stuff. But that doesn’t mean that sports cars aren’t fun or should be ignored. You need both. You need to have a “Porch” and a “Not for You” and a “Life Wasted,” and feel your soul stir, and sometimes you need to just let the records play.

The Fixer

•November 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I recently had a kerfuffle with the Ten Club over delivery of my copy of the Lightning Bolt vinyl, which I am not proud of. I bring it up to make the somewhat obvious point that anxiety about money and commerce and transactions, etc., can lead people to behave in weird, stupid ways. Having been on both sides of the retail/customer service exchange, I know what behaviors and attitudes to avoid as a customer, and even though I don’t think I received perfect service, I don’t think I dealt with the whole thing perfectly either. Which is to say a certain feeling of entitlement welled up in me that I abhor, and that is never flattering or helpful no matter what the situation. How does this relate to “The Fixer”? Well, certainly not directly, but I think that the style of this song, its catchiness and tunefulness and exuberance… I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that these qualities (shared by many songs on Backspacer) rankled certain fan expectations and entitlements, many of which are rooted in music’s uneasy relationship with business and commerce.

The way that “grunge” (a horrible, stupid marketing descriptor that many of us, despite ourselves, reach for from time to time) was framed was, as by design, a reaction against commercial music. So when a whole bunch of disparate bands from the Pacific NW (and then soon from all over) started to land major label contracts and move millions of units, this framing became odd and fraught with complexity. What did it mean for supposedly “difficult” or anti-commercial music to be enormously commercially possible? While I would suggest that Pearl Jam’s music was never seriously uncommercial in this respect–that it represented the acceptable edge of the unacceptable stuff, to paraphrase Peter Buck’s description of his own band, R.E.M., in the ’80s–I think a lot of Pearl Jam fans still cling to a belief in Pearl Jam as “alternative,” and an underdog. There’s always a perceived enemy whether it’s hair bands, boy bands, electronica, or whatever pop music is the zeitgeist, that Pearl Jam is supposed to exist in opposition to.

So when “Last Kiss” became enormously popular, or “Wishlist” was sweetly poppy, or “U” portended things to come that were not the brooding, angst-riddled image that many die-hard fans held of the band’s music, well, how do you spell backlash? “The Fixer,” with its yeah-yeah-yeahs, its lean, new-wavey hop where each instrument and beat is given loads of fresh clean space around it, the triumphant, Obama-era hope-filled fixerupper lyrics (not to mention the Target ads and roll-out) was deeply troubling to certain segments of the fan community.

The narrative put forward by some, a narrative which is prevalent enough to warrant mention, is that now that the band members are older, have families, financially stable (ahem, very, very well off), that their music by definition must be compromised. And for those who have bought into this narrative, any song that Pearl Jam pens, records, and releases that is remotely sunny is therefore “bad,” and a disgrace to the band’s legacy and canon. Backspacer as a whole is the prime example for this camp, veering dangerously close to that age-old crime of “selling out,” whatever the hell that means for one of the world’s most popular bands’ tenth album.

There are many problems with this line of thinking. The most destructive is that it takes an individual’s dislike of an individual song (or songs) and squeezes them into a larger theory that ignores what is unique about each one. Some of the hand-wringing over the purported poppiness of Backspacer and “The Fixer” has even bled over into the response to Lightning Bolt, which seems pretty ludicrous to me. It’s the kind of rationale that leads people think all rap or country or blues sounds the same, just because there is some signifier, whether overt (um, rapping) or less overt (pedal steel, a progression) that acts as a dog-whistle to someone who has made up their mind in advance only to hew to a very specific definition of what is acceptable. Combined with the belief that what is acceptable can only be emotionally difficult, or sad, or angsty because that is someone more pure than upbeat, catchy tunes, is well… sad in itself.

But what it also is, is proprietary and entitled. We invest a lot in our music, financially and emotionally. And so, despite ourselves, and despite rationality, we make our own little demands of it. Our own rules of how our investment should be paid back. The customer is always right, right? If the music changes, and we do not–or if we change, and the music does not, what then? This is where art and consumerism uneasily meet. Can such things ever be fixed?

My Father’s Son

•November 9, 2013 • 1 Comment

ImageMaybe I’m trying to assuage my own guilt for writing about Lightning Bolt while still in the flush of infatuation with the record, but I’m still hung up on the relationship between critics and fans (and fan-critics, critic-fans, etc.). David Foster Wallace, in an review essay about a dictionary of modern English usage, wrote about how reviews are written to coincide with the marketing of new media–be it books, albums, movies, etc. The implicit reason-to-be for reviews is not ultimately to answer how successful a given work is (although this is what, I think, good critics strive their damndest toward), but to answer the consumer’s question: should I buy this?

As Foster Wallace pointed out (and you should all pick up every single one of his collected essay volumes–the essay in question is in Consider the Lobster), this may be crass but it’s undeniable. Record labels and book publishers (I’ve worked for both) and movie studios and everyone involved in those economic webs relies on reviews as recommendations to purchase. So, for fans of a band or author or movie franchise, get awfully invested and hung up on these reviews, which can feel as if the critics are making judgments on their own personal tastes, because of the power critics have to elevate or diminish a piece of art in the marketplace. In our corporate capitalist society, there are deep tensions between what we know to be true–which is that enjoyment of art is personal, and an album, for example, is not empirically “better” or “worse” because of its sales or lack of same in the global marketplace, and what the machine of industry and media tries to tell us every day. For instance, McDonald’s is successful because it makes the best food, and not because of aggressive marketing and franchising and other business maneuvers. It’s all chicken-and-egg and fraught and too time-consuming to think about most of the time, but on an individual level, it makes fans who do think and care about reviews feel both competitive and defensive. We want to see the things we love get loved in the marketplace, even though the marketplace is in many ways (increasingly) a house of cards. We still want our deep feelings about art validated.

But keeping in mind that the role of reviewers in sales cycles and marketing roll-outs, that simmering cauldron of conflicted feelings cools down a little bit. I’m not so much pissed off anymore when something I enjoy gets shat on by other people, as much as I am by lazy criticism. And boy howdy has the attention paid to Lightning Bolt been lazy. Even the positive or mostly positive reviews have been full of what Foster Wallace would call “boners.” It wasn’t a review, but during the World Series (soundtracked almost entirely by Pearl Jam songs old and new), Joe Buck called “Animal” a new Pearl Jam song. Probably not even Buck’s fault, I’m sure he didn’t write the copy, but whoever did: LAZY! Faced with deadlines, and writing so soon after the release of a piece of music, critics reach for classic narratives and do their best to couch what’s new into stories it thinks will help give their readership the appropriate context. But this starts to get self-fulfilling, in that the narrative of a band’s career trajectory doesn’t always hew to the reality of the music itself, but to the marketplace.

[SIDE NOTE: I SWEAR TO GOD I’M WORKING MY WAY TOWARD THE SONG IN QUESTION. PATIENCE, GRASSHOPPERS]

Take for instance, when No Code dropped in 1996. I think it’s legitimate to say that the choice of “Who You Are” as the lead single, and lot of the sounds and textures of that album probably shed a lot of the bros from the fanbase who tend to recoil at the first hint of experimentalism. But once the shrinking audience meme entered the criticsphere, it became self-perpetuating, and everything the band did thereafter became part of a story about whether or not the band was trying to recapture its initial huge fanbase. And just because of the way capitalism works on our brains collectively, the underlying assumption is that of course bands are always concerned about this stuff first and foremost. And so on and so forth. Almost every Pearl Jam review post ’96 has made some mention of dwindling sales, hopeful returns to glory, and what-the-fuck. Every Pearl Jam song became a satellite of “Jeremy” or “Alive” or “Daughter” hoping to catch some of its reflected light because the band was getting older, so what else could they do (memes of being “happier” now as mostly married with children adults, and how that affects the music, have also started in, which make me puke for related but different reasons).

This has really come to a head with Lightning Bolt, and the assertions by even the more positive reviews that the album doesn’t really offer anything new to the band’s legacy, and that the album lacks the energy of the band’s youth. One review talked about how the band had written “Yellow Moon” before, and better–without naming what song or why. I’m sorry, but I overthink this shit as good as anyone, and I think I can safely say that the band has never released a song like “Yellow Moon.”  The same goes for “My Father’s Son.” This is a different question than whether or not the song is reflective of its author’s (in this case, Jeff Ament) musical trademarks, or has predecessors within the canon. I think it is, and does. Obviously Jeff Ament is going to write music like Jeff Ament writes music, and not like, I don’t know, Macklemore (thank Christ). But the point is, and I think Ament would agree, that the reason he keeps writing is to develop and grow as a writer, and incorporate new ideas into the old, and evolve. And “My Father’s Son,” to me, is a clear example of this. The verses sound gloriously ugly to me, with their half-note progressions, overstuffed with Eddie’s frantic vocals. This sounds like an extremely difficult song for the band to play, and it’s a testament to the rhythm section of Ament and Cameron that they pull it off without sounding like they’re laboring too hard or trying to play catch up. Then the song explodes into an almost comically lovely, bucolic bridge (though with no less energy or busy-ness of production palette). If you’ve seriously listened to the band’s entire catalog, I don’t know where there’s a single other song that does what this song does on a musical level. It may have some ancestors (I’ll say “Evacuation” and “Help Help” for starters), but this is also fresh, and new. It’s a reptile that has sprouted wings.

Whether or not that appeals to everyone or not is beside the point to me, and I frankly don’t care. It’s perfectly acceptable to me if someone is turned off by this, or any, song. But to not acknowledge it for what it is, or to lazily categorize it as something it is not drives me nuts. But of course I shouldn’t expect critics under deadline, and who aren’t so obsessed, and who have to listen to a shit ton of music and communicate to vast audiences of people who may not know or care about everything the band has done, to you know, spend time on actually analyzing a song on its own merits. That’s just not the nature of the beast.

***Side/Endnote–I just want to add, re: the band’s energy level on this album. It’s an easy thing to imagine that a band of almost 50-somethings would be “tired” or “complacent” on their tenth album. But seriously, play Riot Act immediately after Lightning Bolt and tell me that it doesn’t sound like it’s been slowed down.

 

Sirens

•September 19, 2013 • 1 Comment

ImageIt feels strange to write about a song without the context of an album. But of course, when I first heard “Even Flow,” “Alive,” and “Hunger Strike,” I didn’t have the context of their albums, and so I was allowed to live in the worlds of those songs strictly on their own terms, and my imagination. Also, it occurs to me now, when I first heard Pearl Jam, I saw them as well. I saw them on MTV at my best friend’s house after school; I didn’t hear them on the radio.

So I guess it’s fitting that my first exposure to “Sirens” came via the video they just released on their website. And similar to my 13-year-old self, I’m looking and listening and using my imagination, asking myself anew “who are these guys?” and “why does their music make me feel the way I’m feeling?”

Life of course, is much more complicated at 34 than at 13. I read somewhere today (memory starting to slip) about adult taste, and how much work it takes to cultivate it, whereas you have a much better shot as a young teenager of just gravitating towards what you’re meant to gravitate towards, at least if you can avoid the pressure of your peers. Happily, and I’ll explain more about why in a second, but I found myself taking to “Sirens” almost instantly, with a similar sense of unintellectual wonder that I did to the songs on Ten. I’m not saying the song reminds me of Ten in any way, quite the opposite, I’m just comparing my instant, pure reaction to it, and it’s something I haven’t felt in a while–even for other songs from the last few albums that I’ve adored and admired (“Unemployable,” “Johnny Guitar,” “The End,” etc.).

As I’ve been thinking and reflecting in the weeks leading up to Lightning Bolt, I realized that Pearl Jam has more or less always been what I needed them to be, and I’ll bet for fans my exact age, or close to it, there’s been a similar trajectory. Ten was an emotional outlet I experienced just as my emotions were starting to get woolly and overwhelming. Vs. and Vitalogy added layers of resentment and cynicism, and gnarled punk ferocity that carried me through the frustrations of high school, of social and political awakening. No Code‘s experimentation dropped right before my senior year, preparing me for the broadening of horizons that college represented.

But then, to be honest, for a long, long time, though I remained an obsessive fan, and bought a stupid amount of live shows, and tracked down every original song I could find, I’ll admit that the band ceased to be what I needed them to be. And that’s exactly how it should’ve been. The band does not exist for any one fan, or any one type of fan, and they write songs that satisfy their creative aspirations first and foremost. I’ve continued to follow their music, to enjoy it, to see concerts, even though the music that most fills me with wonder and inspiration and writerly jealousy has mostly come from other artists, other bands.

So actually, what I guess I’ve wanted from Pearl Jam for all of these years, or maybe what I’ve wanted from myself, is to make me forget about the legacy, forget about the lineage of the songs. I’ve wanted to hear new songs without the baggage of the old, and old songs as if for the first time. Oh my god how I wish I could hear “Tremor Christ” the way I did at 15. Shit was intense.  Let’s get down to business, “Sirens” (despite a musical choice at the very beginning of the song that I personally would have nixed, but…) kinda does this for me. It blows up the past about as well as any Pearl Jam song in recent memory. I don’t even care what the lyrics are. I’m talking the melody, the song structure, the production, the feel of the song. “Sirens” sounds like it belongs to its own moment. This moment.

I’m not saying that it exists completely out of time or canon. These are the same dudes. But their musicianship and songwriting skills are still growing, still surprising. Mike McCready wrote the music for this one, and holy shit–the chord changes alone! And Ed, to his credit, has found new, creative ways to curve his voice around those changes, over and through the meter, and it’s affecting to me not because of what the song is about, but how it goes about expressing that.

Brendan O’Brien called it one of the best songs they’ve ever done. Some jackholes on the Rolling Stone message boards say this sounds like a country song (seriously, if this thought occurred to you when you heard it, you know absolutely fuck-all about country music, seriously). One of the dude, maybe the main dude, from the most prominent fan site said there’s no catchy melody in the song. DUDE. LEARN WHAT A MELODY IS. LEARN HOW TO SING. JESUS H.

But whatever, hyperbole and dumbassery both don’t serve. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not this song, or any Pearl Jam song, goes over like gangbusters to the masses. Lord knows I have my own list of duds and favorites. What matters is that the band is who the band needs to be. And I’m willing to bet that if there are songs on Lightning Bolt that I don’t like, that they’ll still have that ring of truth to them. My 13- and 34-year-old’s hats off to that.

Force of Nature

•September 8, 2013 • 1 Comment

ImageWhen you get in on the ground floor of a band, let’s say it’s 1992 and you’re only 13 years old, every song is huge, a world of its own that you revisit and inhabit with each listen. Of course you have your favorites, but even the songs you don’t care for as much are important. They are part of the album and, at least in 1992, albums are sacred things.

Most bands that have been around as long as Pearl Jam shed fans at similar rates, losing roughly as many early fans as they gain in younger fans discovering them for the first time. And those that stick around get disgruntled, nitpicky. As the amount of songs in the catalog grows, there are more to compare them to. And in the age of mp3s, the importance of the album has been diminished. Fans can reconstruct, compile, reorder their collections however they want.

Whenever a new Pearl Jam album would come out–at least from Vs. to No Code, I was mesmerized. Each new direction broke new ground, added a new color to their palette, whatever cliche you prefer. I still perform the ritual of listening to a new Pearl Jam album on headphones the day it comes out, but as the amount of music I listen to and own (both of Pearl Jam’s and of many, many other acts) has increased almost exponentially, I am less beholden to the preciousness of each individual song. I no longer feel as if it’s an act of betrayal to not want to spend my time in the world of a song that I just flat-out don’t like.

What does this have to do with Force of Nature? I flat-out don’t like it. Before putting it on a week or so ago to remind myself, I couldn’t remember anything about it. This isn’t to say I didn’t give it a chance when it came out, or that I feel other people shouldn’t enjoy it–everyone’s got to have a favorite, I’m sure someone who thinks I’m crazy for raving about “Johnny Guitar” thinks “Force of Nature” is the shit–but that there is only so much time in my life I want to devote to such things.

I was ecstatic about Backspacer when it came out, and I still have no real bone to pick with it as a whole, but when I’m riding shotgun in my wife’s car and I’m playing DJ, I’m less tempted to play the album start to finish than I am any other Pearl Jam album. I’ll play the songs I like and that’s it. “Force of Nature” is a curio. I listen to it when I want to see if my tastes of changed, and then I promptly realize that they haven’t.

Listening to it right now on headphones, I find that it’s not terrible, not wince-inducing. There are things about it that I like–the bridge, the little, almost imperceptible production touches. But overall it’s just a little too conventional. It’s midtempo, vaguely anthemic, with some skronky 80’s guitarwork that personally turns me off. I just don’t see what it adds to the album or the canon. And it’s songs like these that have me torn between adhering to the discipline of album-listening that I still think is important and worth it, and the feeling that I’m wasting my precious music-listening time for doing so.

Johnny Guitar

•August 5, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Image I few weeks ago I asked my cousin, a fellow Pearl Jam fan, what he thought of the Wrigley Field 2013 setlist–especially as it featured a trio of upcoming  Lightning Bolt songs, including the as-yet-unreleased “Lightning Bolt” and “Future Days.” He responded in part by asking me why I thought recent Pearl Jam shows seemed to be bereft of most recent material. The basic construction of a setlist seems to be to take a healthy dose of Ten, Vs., and Vitalogy, and then add a smattering of everything else.  When a new album comes out, that changes things a bit, but only insofar as the formula becomes albums 1, 2, 3, and New Album.  Everything else is a crapshoot (rapture).

With the advent of setlist.fm, it’s actually really easy to get the cold hard stats on this–and it pans out. With the exception of Yield, which manages to hang at least somewhat with Pearl Jam’s Big 3. But unless they’re touring specifically for a new album, expect it to get punked on subsequent tours. Riot Act, Binaural, Pearl Jam, and No Code don’t get represented all that often, unless it’s Halloween or something.

Of course, all bets are off as of yet for Backspacer. When the full-on Lightning Bolt tour kicks off in earnest, I have no idea what material from 2009 the band will feel like playing, or decide makes sense in the context of the new tunes. But if history is any indication, there’s a lot of Backspacer songs that are about to be put to bed. Wrigley only featured one.

While many Pearl Jam fans might celebrate such a scenario (uber-fan reaction seems to have swung decidedly against Backspacer in the four years since its release), I’d be a shame if certain songs were relegated to rarity status even more than they already are. I’m looking at you “Johnny Guitar,” which was only played a third of the time during the BS tour. The song gets my vote for the most underrated from that record, and possibly one of their all time most underrated. I don’t think it’s perfect (end of song fadeouts don’t usually bug me, but the one on this track really, really does), but when I’m playing DJ while riding shotgun while my wife drives, this is the song I most want to hear off this album.

Why? Because it’s fun. I know a lot of songs on Backspacer were designed to be fun, but this one’s weirder, more idiosyncratic, the rhythm and the pacing of the chord changes and Ed’s singing just a little off-kilter and unexpected, and listening to that album four years removed really highlights how much it needed more messiness. Or maybe I should say that I would like it more if it were messier, even though I think the band’s intention was specifically tightness, conciseness, brevity.  My tastes are just running woolier these days. I love that “Johnny Guitar” threatens to kind of fly off the rails, despite it’s catchiness. It takes risks that other songs, god help me “Force of Nature” being one, do not.

Mind Your Manners

•July 12, 2013 • 6 Comments

ImageWell shit. Don’t call it a Come Back, I’ve been here for years. Except for that whole “updating the blog” thing. I’ve thought about it, wrote a few things I never posted, slept in, had a few beers, got married, had a baby, moved to the country, all sorts of crazy stuff. But now’s as good a time as any to kick back in and cover whatever originals have come out since I left off–which I believe is 10/11 of Backspacer, the upcoming Lightning Bolt, and a few odds ‘n’ sods, I think.  Suggestions welcome. Just mind your manners.

One of the reasons I think it was so difficult for me to keep this blog going right after Backspacer came out was that the songs were too shiny and new to develop any real perspective on. With every other album/song, I’d had at least a smidgen of history or nostalgia associated–enough to distance myself somewhat and try (hopefully) to make the blog something more than I like this songI don’t like this other song. It takes time to develop a relationship with music that you care about, and one of the strange things about the current model of music promotion and the instantaneous nature of the internet, is that opinions get blasted in every direction long before anyone really knows what they’re holding in their hands… er…. ears.

So I stepped away from keeping this blog up, even though there were plenty of songs coming out worth mentioning or dissecting, and I stopped writing for an online music/culture journal as well. I just wanted to listen to the music I wanted to listen to, and not bother with explaining myself or the music to anyone but myself.  It’s been amazing. But then of course the rumors start coming out about a new album, stacking up like pancakes until suddenly you’re sitting in front of a lumberjack’s breakfast after a night of heavy drinking and just daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmn, you can’t help but dig in. So here we are.

I don’t have very much distance from “Mind Your Manners” but I did rack up an unhealthy number of consecutive listens on both commutes yesterday, and gauge/temper my feelings about it. I overthought it, underthought it, and just plain enjoyed it. I remember loving “The Fixer” when that came out, ditto “World Wide Suicide,” but both of those songs are fairly unmemorable to me now. I don’t want to wonder about the longevity of MYM, the fan in me wants to believe it stay strong in my mind for x, y, and z reasons, but who can ever be sure?  Right now it exists out of context, the way all lead singles do released months before their accompanying albums.

We have lots of questions, the most pressing of which is “Is it indicative of what’s to come?”  Another, related question is “Is there any precedent for this in their earlier work?”  I don’t have an answer for the first, and summoning a response to the second is tricky. Fans have already pointed to “Spin the Black Circle,” “Habit,” and “Got Some” as ancestral stock, and I guess I can see that. I can see how this song marries some of their earlier raw-throated punk songs with a bit of shiny studio polish a la Backspacer. The bridge in particular reminds me of “Gonna See My Friend.”  But I also think it’s something different; I believe the band is actively trying to push themselves here rather than recapture or rehash.  The beat in particular sounds like new ground for the band, a kind of shit-kicking rhythm that plaid kilted mohawked youths skronk to.  McCready’s solo is also ragged and unsettling. And Ed’s scream at the end? Exhilarating. I honestly can’t think of the last Pearl Jam song to make my face scrunch up that way, though I’ve loved several as much but for different reasons.

What “Mind Your Manners” has really made me realize is just how little contemporary aggressive, “heavy” music I currently enjoy. I love King Animal of course, and have dabbled in Mastodon and Baroness thanks to some metal-loving friends. But I mostly find superficially quieter to music to have a much heavier impact that balls-out rock and roll, and I keep digging deeper into older music as well. I could give less than two craps about whatever’s on the radio.  But Pearl Jam, and “Mind Your Manners” specifically, still work for me. The aggression feels earned, the vague, righteous fury–there’s something behind it that is more than fashion or style.  It may be too early to know exactly what that something is, but it’s never too early to know that it works.