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.