One of the biggest surprises of Pearl Jam’s 2006 was the return of “Rats”, a strange, humorous, yet intense song from Vs. that is easy to overlook when thinking about Pearl Jam’s career as a whole. Interpolating a line from Michael Jackson’s “Ben”, and featuring one of the band’s most hilarious misheard lyrics (“lick the dirt of the larger ones’ feet” always sounds like “lick the dirt of [Hakeem] Olajuwon’s feet”to me), it’s a headscratcher, but an enjoyable one.
The playful tone of the lyrics, not to mention the bass-led funk-rock hybrid, is actually not uncommon for early Pearl Jam. Though not particularly known for their sense of humor, songs like “Dirty Frank”, “Glorified G”, and “Rats” are all either outright goofy, or play freely with sarcasm and irony. The latter day equivalent of these songs, most notably “Sweet Lew”, makes me suspect that Ament played a prominent role in the songwriting process, despite those tunes all being credited to the entire band in the liner notes. Ament’s bass drives “Rats”, keeping the song buoyant, loose, and elastic.