Now, if you were all in my living room–we could skip these words and just put needle to record. Sometimes a song just leaves you with little else to say, particularly when they come out of the blue and surprise you. After spending a considerable amount of time listening to Pearl Jam’s self-titled record start-to-finish in the months after its release, I put it down for a while, as I do all of their albums. There’s a lot of music in this world besides Pearl Jam after all, and I’m fortunate enough as a music writer to have access to a whole lot of it. The great thing about writing this blog for me is the forced re-exposure to the band’s entire catalog, songs I normally wouldn’t pay attention to or just haven’t listened to in years.

“Parachutes” is too recent for that, but it’s definitely not the first song than comes to mind when one thinks of Pearl Jam. It’d be a tough road to hoe for any quiet song to be sequenced in the middle of one of the band’s most aggressive efforts, but “Parachutes” is particularly delicate and unassuming. Hearing it now, separate from the rest of the album, is a mini-revelation–how could this not have been a single? As mellower Pearl Jam singles go, “Parachutes” is more complicated than “Wishlist”, brighter than “Off He Goes”, more interesting than “I Am Mine”.  Of course, not listening to the radio, I have no idea what flies these days; it’s the time of year, the time of night that’s convincing me right now.  And the sparseness.

The arrangement of “Parachutes” is divinely uncluttered.  Each instrument, from the double-tracked vocals to the optigon (or is that a guitar effect?) to bass and drums are distinct in the mix, as they play on Gossard’s Beatlesesque melodies and time signature shifts. The only instrument noticeably absent is lead guitar–at least in its traditional form, until the closing few moments.  Subtle leads float and whisper in and out of the verses, between shakers and over organs.  Vedder’s oceanography degree again comes in handy (see “Oceans” plus every third song after that), plus an affinity for turning lights off and on (“In Hiding”), but in all seriousness, “Parachutes” represents somewhat of a combination of those two songs: love, struggle, faith, reflection, acceptance.  There’s a sense of having gone through a few rough patches, but emerging with newfound clarity.  Mature without being stodgy, it’s no surprise that “Parachutes” often gets overlooked for its flashier brethren.  But it can be a surprise when it hits you at just the right moment.


~ by Michael on May 21, 2007.

7 Responses to “Parachutes”

  1. I think it is a moment of perfection, 5 stars. The placement after the hard hitting opening 5 of Life Wasted through Marker only serves to emphasise the mellowed out effect.

  2. A song with a Beatles feeling. I didn’t like it when I first heard it but now it grows on me everytime I listen to it.

  3. That was an awesome opening sentence, C13.

    Ahhh, Parachutes, hmmm, I don’t know, the lyrics aren’t my favorite,.. this is no Beatles song thats for shit sure. Lennon rolls over in his grave every time the comparison is made, which is often. Hopefully, this song will grow on me with time.

  4. Listening to this tune is like listening to a music box, all the way down to the slight break where someone could be closing the lid for a second. The lyrics are like nothing I’ve ever seen in a Beatles song, a very circular, stream-of-consciousness style. The guitars have a lovely, tinkling quality. It’s funny, but I was just listening to Ten today, and that sweet, gentle vocal style is something that we never heard from Eddie until No Code. This may be the song that has been waiting more than 10 years for that voice.

    I can’t tell you how glad I am that this one made it onto the album.

  5. I always wondered if this is the song referred to as ‘Of The Earth’, it seems to just fit the song…

  6. “Of the Earth” was apparently written solely by Vedder, and was described as sounding like a cross between Peter Gabriel and Sleater-Kinney. If only it was really “Parachutes”, then my mind would be at ease as to one less Pearl Jam song I had to track down. I am currently obsessed with finding those Avocado outtakes. I don’t think they’re out there though.

  7. I absolutely adore this song. It´s a song they have never done before, and despite the obvious Beatles influence/references, it has it´s own life for sure. The song is very complex, the chords are progressive and some are at first not really connected in a harmonic way. But it all makes sense when you have heard this one a few times. For sure one of the best works of Gossard. I never really understood thr way the lyris are set up, with one word closing a verse leading to a new verse (if you understand what I mean). I wouldn´t know what to call that lyrical style, but it surely fits this song

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