Even Flow

Ten This is the song that begat many an obsession with Pearl Jam upon its release in 1991, so it’s altogether appropriate I think to begin this blog in its honor. I first heard Even Flow when I was 12 or 13. My friend brought over a VHS tape of some videos he’d taped off of MTV; Even Flow was on it, as well as Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike”. Up until that point, and even though I was young, I was a big fan of hip-hop from A Tribe Called Quest to EPMD to Public Enemy. Rock music never appealed much, because it seemed either too sinister and scary, or too stupid. Growing up in Massachusetts, all of my classmates were big Aerosmith fans. But “Love in an Elevator” didn’t make much sense to me then, and the appeal of that song (and band) still baffles. Pearl Jam seemed different from first listen.

Of course, the number one selling point of Pearl Jam has always been Ed Vedder’s voice, as Even Flow makes abundantly clear. This is the song that gets lampooned more than any other in the band’s catalog, most memorably by Adam Sandler on Saturday Night Live. Vedder’s distinctive baritone voice swallows every word at the same time it speeds through them, rendering meaning next-to-impossible for casual listeners. But the passion is undeniable, and refreshing. Hard rock had been wanting for deep, resonant, melodic voices for quite some time, so even if one didn’t care a damn for lyrics, Pearl Jam’s sound was refreshing to hear on the radio, or in videos. Once people paid attention to the words however, the band’s fame really exploded.

As evidenced by the partial transcription in Ten’s insert (written mostly on the margins of a dollar bill), Even Flow is about the plight of a homeless man. As I will probably argue for most of Pearl Jam’s early songs, despite my love for them (and despite their enormous impact on the mainstream rock world), the actual words are pretty unremarkable. Although it’s written as a description of an individual homeless person, it’s not. It’s about every homeless person, the problem of homelessness, the indifference of society, anything but the actual day-to-day experience of a unique human being. Sure, there’s a “pillow made of concrete”, and the unnamed characters worries about the onset of cold weather, but these are pretty generic details that only cut so deep. The real impact of the song is in how forcefully it’s delivered by singer and band. Again, not the individual lines, but how Vedder sings them.

Notes: Even Flow has been played by the band in concert more times than any other song. The re-recorded version of the song featured in the MTV video was made available on the Japanese import “Alive” EP, as well as Pearl Jam’s best-of, Rearviewmirror.


~ by Michael on April 25, 2007.

11 Responses to “Even Flow”

  1. Nice start to your new blog! I also became a PJ fan because of the Even Flow video. Can’t wait to read more song reviews.

  2. BETTER MAN and LAST KISS are probably more popular as tunes, but a surprising number of people you meet don’t know those are Pearl Jam. EVEN FLOW is the one tune that is consistently associated with Pearl Jam, the one that is parodied. What is really strange is how infectious even the parodies are.

    Of course, it is also one of the most memorable rock songs to come out of the 90’s. You don’t realize how good Eddie is on this tune until you listen to cover versions.

  3. I did notice that “Betterman” is the most purchased Pearl Jam song off of iTunes. It’ll be interesting to review that song, as it makes me wonder whether the popularity with the general populace is similar to that of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”, where the real meaning of the song is overlooked because of a catchy hook.

  4. […] “Alive” does give me the best chance to reflect on Ten, as a whole. Even though “Even Flow” was the first song I heard, the reason I bought the album, “Alive” was and is […]

  5. Matt had the chance to do some solos during this one in the 2006 tour. Cool Stone riff

  6. Cool riff, but I’ve never really embraced Even Flow as others certainly have. I got into Ten in spite of EF, and on the strength of Jeremy and Alive.

    Though the vocal melody is creative on Even Flow, something about Eddie’s complete lack of enunciation on this track, like Lukin, makes it a tough listen for me. Don’t get me wrong. I like his rapid-fire (Go, Spin the Black Circle) and just plain slurred (I Got Shit, State of Love and Trust) deliveries, but this one’s always struck me as wrong somehow. Maybe it’s all the oh yeahs and harumphs.

    Anyway, you’ve hit upon a great blog idea for a truly great band. Thank you.

  7. Thanks NoWay!, and I look forward to reading more of your comments. I’m with you on the “oh yeahs” and “harumphs” and enjoy how they’ve lessened over the years, or at least evolved somewhat.

  8. NoCoder, perhaps you wouldn’t feel that way if the lyrics to Even Flow were included in the liner notes.

    I just read C13’s write-up on Release and it made me remember the first time I heard PJ. I was about his age, 13 or so, and that video simply made me stare absently at the screen. I liked it instantly. It was as if my brain somehow subconsiously knew I would be listening to this band for the next 15 years. I couldn’t put my finger on what was so different or inviting about this band/music. Maybe the poorly shot video struck a chord, it was the first non polished thing I ever saw on MTV. (I grew up with green neon Poison videos) It was just these guys in flannel with a huge crowd digging their shit. Then he dove into the crowd. Wow.

  9. actually now that I think about it, Even Flow is just a great song, the video added to it sure, but how can I not like Pearl Jam? I would have horrible taste in music if I disliked them, to be quite honest.

  10. this is the song that got me to listen to pearl jam, and i wasnt even alive when it came out. i was and still am a huge fan of the stone temple pilots, and i heard that stp’s “plush” is just a rip-off of “even flow”. i listened to it and the verses definitely remind me of the bridge from “plush” but i dont think scott weiland deliberately ripped them off, and i loved pearl jam ever since. anyway this is a pretty great song with a great message, everybody knows what its about. the one thing i dont know is whether i like the version that’s on “ten” or the one from the music video more. the album one is a lot heavier on the guitars, which i like, but i personally like eddie’s voice better on the other, and the music video is awesome

  11. does anyone know where to get Adam Sandlers version, mp3 or vid? please email toddmckean@gmail.com

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