Can’t Keep

It’s been a while since new Pearl Jam songs were consistently debuted in concert before their parent albums were released. With the enormously generous advent of the band’s official bootleg series, new originals have been all but completely absent with a few exceptions. But even those exceptions have only cropped up on special warm-up shows, or one-off benefit concerts not meant for purchase. For the Pearl Jam song aficionado, the recent performance with the mother lode of new material occurred on 2/26/2002, where a solo Ed Vedder unveiled a slew of ukelele (and sometimes guitar) based numbers including “You’re True”, “Broken Hearted”, and “Can’t Keep” (at All Tomorrow’s Parties, two weeks later, Vedder broke in another new handful).

“Can’t Keep” was referred to by Vedder at ATP as “speed thrash ukelele”, and in fact the live solo versions of the song feature a much nimbler tempo than the full-band version that made it onto Riot Act. The restlessness and eagerness of the song’s lyric, combined the quick and bright uke, gives the song an invigorating quality. The album version, however, slowed down ever so slightly yet bolstered by a crisp, clear drum track and electric guitars, is like a warm cup of tea to its ancestor’s espresso. The same essential energy hums inside of the studio recording, just mellowed out somewhat, the way yoga can be just as demanding physically as most outwardly vigorous exercising.

As an opening track the song is one of the band’s best, a declaration of intent, a hopeful and positive call to arms that leads listeners into an album full of tough examinations, both personal and political. The melody and lyrics are particularly beautiful, and in many ways anomalous in the body of Vedder’s solo contributions. The melody of the verses travels almost a flat line through the chords before rising for what amounts to an untraditional chorus. It’s not a progression or style that the band has even approached elsewhere (like much of Riot Act in retrospect), though it’d be interesting to see what else Pearl Jam could do traveling this path of resolved, focused calm.


~ by Michael on May 8, 2007.

11 Responses to “Can’t Keep”

  1. Another quality write up, C13! But I know you differing opinion, so let me be the first. Without being able to craft my thoughts as succinctly as you have, I think “Can’t Keep” is the band’s least appealing album opener, and an unfortunate sign of what was to come on “Riot Act.” (Generally, a batch of songs that should have felt far more urgent than they did, especially in the wake of current events at the time.)

    I enjoy the solo version better, but still think this would have made a great addition to Lost Dogs.

  2. I to enjoy the live solo version bette, it is so much more powerful and yes “urgent”. But I think Riot Act was the most “urgent”album Pj ever put out, they had been expeimenting on all of the albums from Vitalogy to Riot Act there was The introspective No Code, the brighter and polished Yield,and the raw and sometimes confusing Binaural. Riot Act was so urgent becuase it was the model from which pearl jam would start basing their albums. Avacoda and Riot Act may sound completley differnt but each gets a certain number of “jobs” the band wants to do done.

  3. Wow! Two votes for the live version. I’ll give just one more plug for my point of view, to reiterate that Vedder is really letting the melody work for him, rather than pushing too hard and overpowering it. And that’s a good thing for both the studio and live versions since I think the melody is one of his most inherently uplifting.

  4. I like the full band version of this song better than the ukelele version even though both are great. This song is just so versatile.

    You point out something that I have always thought, that the arrangement of this song in both its incarnations is so unusual and surprising. The lyrics and melody of the verses are really terrific, but what you call a non-traditional chorus take this song out of the pop mainstream. Adding a traditional chorus, might have made this song a mainstream hit, but that would have taken away what is so special about it.

    It’s night music, great to listen to on a really, really windy Fall night.

  5. Jeff said in a Billboard article ((by longtime Pearl Jam columnist Jonathan Cohen (who seems like the only journalsit to touch the band these days in regards to news and interviews)) said something along the lines of ‘it sounds like insects’. I’ll just go ahead and agree with Jeff.

    I like the ukelele version, but not nearly as much as ‘Satellite’. WOW.

    P13, are you gonna write reviews for these Ed solo songs as well?

  6. I meant to say C13, and sorry for all the typos. I shouldn’t demand so much, you have enough on your plate with over 100 pearl jam songs to go. 😉

  7. I’m embarrassed to say it, but I don’t know the other Ed solo songs besides “Goodbye” since it was on that soundtrack. I’m on a mission to find them, though I’m not sure if I’ll consider them for the site. Maybe.

  8. It makes more sense not write about non pj songs actually. You gotta hear those tunes! The live version of Goodbye blows away the recorded version in my opinion.

  9. The ukulele version, sounds very good also!

  10. A great track, and one of the biggest reasons why my early impressions of Riot Act were so favorable. Just a great driving rhythm with, in my opinion, Eddie’s best lyrics on the album.

    While Can’t Keep might be one of the band’s lesser album openers, that’s not an entirely fair comparison, considering it’s up against Once, Go, Last Exit, Sometimes, Brain of J, Breakerfall, and Life Wasted.


    Nothing against Breakerfall, but that’s the only song in that bunch that, to me, ranks clearly behind Can’t Keep.

  11. […] 1. Can’t Keep 2. Save You 3. Love Boat Captain 4. Cropduster 5. Ghost 6. I Am Mine 7. Thumbing My Way 8. You Are […]

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