World Wide Suicide

AvocadoDespite is political concerns, the lead single off of Pearl Jam’s self-titled, J Records debut has more in common in with “U” and “Leatherman” than with thematically similar songs like “Grievance” and “Insignificance”. For all of Ed Vedder’s status as a hard rock icon, his skill and penchant for pop songwriting has gone largely unnoticed. The pleasures of simple I-IV-V chord progressions, catchy melodies, and hook-laden choruses are not only hallmarks of the punk rock known to influence Vedder’s writing, but also of classic teeny-bopper pop. Such seemingly frivolous influences are usually anathema to “serious” rock and roll, but hints of Vedder’s fondness for pop have surfaced as early as “Rearviewmirror” and “Corduroy”, and came to fruition on the aforementioned Yield b-sides.

“World Wide Suicide” is all about the pop, bold and broad. “Grievance” wanted you to protest along, but WWS demands that you sing along. Breaking up a long string of curious choices for lead singles, WWS is as radio-friendly as Pearl Jam is likely to get. The chart success and good buzz surrounding “Avocado” owes a lot to the fact that WWS was its first ambassador. Bringing together several signatures of late-period Pearl Jam (catchiness, multi-tracked harmonies, explicit political commentary) into one neat little package, the band finally got it right after years of wanting to get (it) right. Not that WWS is the best song on Pearl Jam; it’s not. But it best encapsulates the rest of the record in one sugary, 3.5 minute dose.

There are many artistic pitfalls when trying to write a good political song. Art is meant to endure. Most art fails at this anyway, but political art has its own special set of obstacles to overcome if it wants to survive. Get too specific, and no one will understand what you were singing about in twenty years. Get too broad, and you run the risk of being not only obvious, but preachy. I have a natural tendency towards playing devil’s advocate even with political statements with which I ostensibly agree. Songs full of strawmen and pat, naive worldviews make me squeamish. WWS does a pretty good job of avoiding these kinds of traps. The president in the song is undoubtedly GW Bush, which is understood to anyone listening to the song in our time, but the phenomenon of political leaders exploiting the sacrifices of the military and their families for personal and political gain, is not a new phenomenon, and it won’t unfortunately be an old one anytime soon. So, while meatheads had easy bait to boo at “Bu$hleaguer” on the 2003 tour, how many people freaked out in 2006 for “Worldwide Suicide”? Plenty of course, but in a good way.

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~ by Michael on May 1, 2007.

12 Responses to “World Wide Suicide”

  1. This song was awesome when it came out, but died away as soon as “Unemployable” came on. Everyone could expect a song like WWS to come out of PJ, but “Unemployable” was just some much, “craftier”, if that’s a word.

  2. Craftier is a word, and “Unemployable” is one of my all-time favorite songs. I’ll get to that one eventually…

  3. World Wide Suicide is one of the greatest songs Pearl Jam ever produced. Nearly everything about this recording is perfect from the lyrics to the performance to the production. In my opinion is was the best pop song released in 2006. It deserved to be the hit that it was. Needless to say, I thought it was the best song on Pearl Jam.

    If you don’t think that it was the best song on Pearl Jam, what do you think was?

  4. Wow! I’m glad you feel so strongly about it. It is very refreshing to hear such conviction. What do I think the best song on the record is? It’s a toss-up between “Army Reserve” and “Unemployable” for me. Of course, I’ll elaborate on the whys when those songs come up in the queue. šŸ™‚

  5. Great rock tune! And the lyrics are a pain in the ass, for the us government.

  6. Nice write up C13.

  7. …..except for the ‘meatheads booing at Bushleauger’ comment. This hippy playing his guitar in the 10Club ticket line was booing his ass off after Bushleaguer. I didn’t boo personally but it was a mix of different people, not just meatheads. Also, your comment insinuates that you disagree with the booing at the Nassua Colisseum show. Again, I didn’t boo but at the same time I can’t fault people for doing so.

  8. I can’t fault people their own opinions either, or their fundamental right to express them, even through booing–but I definitely disagree with the booing.

  9. I respect that.

  10. To get back on the topic of “World Wide Suicide”, I think this song is very good but it shouldn’t have been the first single. It’s not a very radio-friendly song in my opinion. I would of liked to see the first single as “Marker in the Sand” or “Army Reserve”.

  11. I can’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed by this song. I think the verse lyrics are exceptional but think the chorus lets the song down. What’s Ed trying to convey? That the world is coming to an end due to the actions of our leaders and our inability to put a stop to it? It just seems like such a cop-out of a chorus, almost if there’s no hope for salvation at all – one thing that’s always been a distinctive part of Ed’s lyrics.

    Apart from that, I also feel the music isn’t strong enough to support the lyrics, I don’t get the feeling that the lyrics were written with this particular piece of music in mind. Now, being a songwriter as well, I can appreciate there’s more than one way to get to where you’re going but different paths can also present different pratfalls. I may be miles off in my assessment, but I always get the impression Ed wrote the verses, which are excellent, and then had to force them into a song at a later date. He always seems to rush the verse lyrics, as if he hardly has any time to fit them all in, and the chorus feels tacked on at a later date.

    It brings to mind another comment you made for another song where you stated the worst thing in the world is to be able to picture an artist piecing together a song, like you can virtually see the seams where it’s all been stiched together.

    I think Unemployable is a perfect example of where “wordy” (for lack of a better term) lyrics and a rock song are perfectly married; I can’t wait for your write-up on this one, as to me it’s one of the best songs they’ve ever written. I was pretty disappointed not to hear it at the two shows I saw in 2006, but hell, I saw Army Reserve so I can’t complain (another favourite).

    Just to pick up a comment left earlier, I do agree that it may not have been the “best” choice for a lead-off single to Avocado. These things are all pretty subjective though, it all really depends on what the band’s aim was in releasing WWS; they may have wanted to be seen to be making a policatal statement more than just vying for increased radio play (I doubt J Records would agree…).

    I think Unemployable or Life Wasted would’ve held them in better stead as far as “radio singles” are concerned, however it’s hard to say; I can’t imagine many radio programmers giving half a chance to Pearl Jam no matter which song was being promoted. Perhaps the band know this all too well, which would explain some of their questionable choice in singles over the years (Off He Goes? Wishlist? Nothing As It Seems? etc….). Who knows, it’s all speculation at this point and I think I’ve digressed far enough from the topic at hand.

    World Wide Suicide: In short, to me, less than the sum of its parts.

  12. Great assessment Spencer–I agree with you about “Unemployable”–in my top ten, maybe top 5 all time Pearl Jam songs. I was able to see it at the one show I saw in 2006, but no “Army Reserve.” Those two songs are another pair that are rarely played together. Usually but not always either/or.

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