Who You Are
Strange that the lead single off of a Pearl Jam album would end up one of the band’s more obscure tracks, but such is the case with No Code’s “Who You Are”. The band at the time called it the best thing they’d ever done, yet it was played less than 30 times between 1996 and 1998, and never since. Though it reached #1 on the US modern rock charts, rock radio DJ’s were baffled by the song’s Eastern melodies and tribal drumming courtesy of drummer Jack Irons. I remember hearing the song on the radio at the time, and the quick dismissals from the jocks about the band “getting weird” and “shunning their fans”, which was too bad. “Who You Are” was a genuine and highly successful attempt to broaden the band’s sound, and contains some of their loveliest moments.
The song fades in at the beginning with an insistent, poly-rhythmic beat, Jeff Ament’s zooming bass, and a few atonal piano chords sprinkled in for good measure. As with the No Code outtake (and Lost Dogs selection) “All Night”, “Who You Are” features layered, multi-tracked harmonies by Vedder, whose melody climbs up and down with Gossard’s guitar chords. The writing is jagged, playful, and self-referential, “That’s the moss in the aforementioned verse.” There’s no narrative, just half-sentences and fragments, partial- and off-rhymes, “Circumstance, clapping hands / Driving winds, happenstance.” It’s no wonder that the song baffled casual fans and radio dudes at the time, but it’s also a shame. As No Code’s sales figures suggest, the creative growth and experimentation of “Who You Are”, indicative of the whole album, frightened people away from some exceptional songs.