Before such titles as “Of the Earth”, “Severed Hand”, and “2×4” hit the web and print media in breathless anticipation of a new Pearl Jam record, there was “Crapshoot”. Or “Crapshoot Rapture”. Then “Comatose”. Yes, when the self-titled Pearl Jam record finally hit the streets, the song was called “Comatose”, though I suspect for a lot of fans, it will always be one of the former. For the band’s part, the decision to change the name of the song came from the fact that none of them could keep a straight face when saying “Crapshoot” out loud, especially problematic for such an intense, aggressive screed.
Starting out with a few windmilling Who-ish chords, “Comatose” laid to rest any doubts that Vedder was losing his ability to execute full-throttle screamers in the vein (ha!) of “Blood” or “Spin the Black Circle”. The song is the near definition of rubbed raw, with spiky, signature Pearl Jam-brand punk riffs, like a sped up “Hail Hail”. Vedder sounds ecstatic, revelling in every syllable, “for all e-ter-ni-ty!” This is especially evident live, where on several occasions the nervous energy pent up inside the song threatened to derail it, Ed getting ahead of himself as if he wanted the whole thing to go even faster. On the album, the unhinged quality of “Comatose” serves to make the rest of the opening series of five aggressive songs feel slightly less overwhelming in comparison. Its twitchiness, though matched to some degree by the verses of “Marker in the Sand”, contrasts well with the solidity of “Life Wasted” and “Severed Hand”, and the pop construction of “World Wide Suicide”.
The keystone in understand the lyrics in “Comatose” appears to be the tension-filled bridge, where Vedder exhorts an antagonist to “leave [his/her] hatred on the cross”, making a fairly obvious swipe at either right-wing fundamentalist Christianity in general, or Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” in particular. A bit more seriously, that phrase is preceded by “I’ll break the law / If it’s illegal to be in love”, which leads me to think that the real issue at the heart of “Comatose” is homophobia and anti-gay rights lobbyists. The last line, “Something never thought you’d be part of” is intriguing, perhaps directed at a particular friend/associate who holds views that surprised the author. But again, in what seems to be turning into a mantra for More Than Ten, sniffing out an exact interpretation of the song can often feel beside the point. Surprisingly for such a song with such a breakneck pace, “Comatose” really just makes me want to jump around and dance. How many songs with lines like “Consider me an abscess” can one say that about?