Nothing As It Seems
Despite having arguably the best artwork of any Pearl Jam single, “Nothing As It Seems” was not a successful ambassador for Binaural. You can’t see artwork on the radio, after all. And if you’re an average rock radio listener with Ten and Vs. just taking up rack space between Seven Mary Three, Marcy Playground, and Saigon Kick, “Nothing As It Seems” is not going to win your heart with five minutes of lumbering dirge rock, no matter how excited those crazy radio DJ’s sound (at first) about the latest from “Seattle grunge veterans PEARL JAM!! (honk honk, slide-whistle, gong)”.
On an album not exactly ripe with radio-friendly material, “Nothing As It Seems” was still an extraordinarily unconventional choice for a lead-off single. “Who You Are” at least had the benefit of being in a major key. Not so with Ament’s “NAIS”, a moody “Immortality”-style plodder, and a showcase for Mike McCready’s expressive, if gloomy, leads. Ament has commented that the song was influence in part from watching the Nick Nolte film Affliction, and reflecting on his own rural upbringing. If any of you haven’t seen Affliction, I can’t recommend the film highly enough. Just having learned of the connection, I’m already much more interested in the song.
This is the dark side of “…Small Town” in many ways, a somber acknowledgement that “the little that you see, it’s home.” Few opportunities, stifled ambition, poverty–all far from America’s nostalgia-tinted, idealized view of rural life. As someone who grew up in a tiny town where kids routinely get stuck in nowhere jobs, or meth addiction, or whatever, but also as someone who loved the country enough to move to an even smaller town after 4 years in a major US city–“Nothing As It Seems” has suddenly become a lot more intriguing to me. I guess this just another testament to how songs can grow or diminish with time depending on a seemingly limitless array of circumstances. But although background knowledge can enhance the experience of a song by making it more interesting in theory, the jury is out on whether or not the songwriting could have been better executed, both musically and lyrically.