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.


~ by Michael on May 23, 2007.

13 Responses to “Nothing As It Seems”

  1. C13, Your assessmet is very vague. You don’t really tell us whether you like this song or not.

    The lyrics absolutely stink. Couple that with the dirge-like atmosphere and no amount of Mike McCready at his most inspired is going to salvage this for me. Binaural will always be a tough listen for me based on this one song.

  2. Fair enough Susan. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. Knowing a little bit more now than I used to regarding the lyrics, makes me appreciate them more than I did–but does that make them any better? Maybe not. And as for the style of the song, they’ve cleared been more effective with that kind of thing in the past. So it’s surely not one of my favorites. But I don’t outright hate it. I’ll just say it could have been better.

  3. C13, I’ve always wondered how comfortable the band members are in criticizing eachother’s lyrics. Lyric writing is kind of a personal activity, and criticism could potentially hurt people’s feelings. Would even the singer in a band feel uncomfortable making a lot of criticisms of other members lyrics? Do the others ever critique Eddie Vedder’s lyrics?

    How does Eddie Vedder put himself in the frame of mind to sing:

    “putting in, inputting in
    don’t feel like methadone
    a scratching voice all alone
    there’s nothing like your baritone?”

  4. In my opinion, these lyrics are no better/worse than most Jeff Ament compositions, but I certainly see your point, Susan. I don’t particularly like them, but Ed sings these particular lyrics with enough conviction to make it (kinda) work for me. However, as for “NAIS” being chosen as the first Binaural single, I always thought that was a big F*ck You to us fans. What radio programmer was going to play “NAIS” on the radio?? I don’t think I ever heard it. This was a song that was difficult to get into and hard, even for most fans I know, to really enjoy. I can respect it musically, but as a lead-off, it’s not my cup of tea …but I digress. “NAIS” is a song that has grown on me after seven years. I can listen to it, and even enjoy it, but I certainly don’t put it very high on my Best PJ Songs list.

  5. No, it’s not high on mine. And to be honest–I think what I try to do regarding all PJ lyrics is compare them only to their other efforts. And in that respect, I think these are definitely better than “Ghost”. Ament always manages to put in some really awkward lines. To be even more honest, I haven’t loved Pearl Jam for their lyrics in a very long time, at least when compared to a lot of other writers out there. But they usually work extremely well in the context of what the band is trying to achieve, and it’s the whole experience of Pearl Jam that has always meant a lot to me. I’ll probably have to defend/better articulate these statements soon, I’m sure! 🙂

  6. I love Nothing As It Seems. It has a Pink Floyd feeling. Is one of the few PJ songs that sound better in the studio than in a concert. The Binaural feeilng of this one, unfortunately cannot be expressed live. Despite this, I really want to hear live this one. I hope they will play it in London this summer.

  7. Ahhh, this song is…a…a good song. Not the absolute best, especially not the studio; I think the only good version os Beynora Hall, with Mike’s crazy solo. Jeff, in my opinion, has a better lyrical sense and has developed more than Stone has, but NAiS is arranged in an odd “get it over with” way, with the extended guitar solo and Matt Camerons huge cymbal sound at the end and then back to the chorus is very pushing on the listener.

    Either Grievance, Innsignficance, or Light Years should have been the lead single. in my opinion: Light Years. It shows a movement in rhythm, melody, and positive or more positive lyrics! NAiS is a step backwards as a lead single or even a single at all.

  8. Everyone except Giannis seems to have a response similar to mine. One of the things about lyrics is that they don’t have to make perfect sense. They just need to fit the song in such a way that the song seems to make sense. I can live with the Jeff lyrics for LOWLIGHT even though those also don’t really make sense. It just feels like they do in the context of the song. NAIS is a different story, at least for me.

  9. McCready said something in an interview before the release of Binaural along the lines of, “Nothing as it Seems” is his new favorite pj song, and that he strongly relates to this song/album because it was a dark period in his life when they recorded it. (I think he went back to drugs and alcohol after being clean during the Yield period)

    I like NAIS. Good lyrics by Jeff. That opening guitar line by Mike is the dreariest thing I’ve ever heard. Very depressing.

  10. Nothing As It Seems probably has the most wry truth to its sound, among an awesome album ‘Binaural’.
    Love your comments about this song. I gotta see ‘Affliction’. Great site!

  11. Not one of my faves either. It´s slow and dark, but kinda sets a perfect mood for Binaural. Actually, I think this one and Sleight of hand are the best songs on Binaural to fit Blakes´producing style. Having said that, Binaural contains better songs than Nothing as it seems, in my opinion.

  12. My favorite song since TEN, Dark Strong, and not shallow…the perfect flip side to what happy dance kid music is… sometimes when you are feeling down, a dark song can be comforting, but I think thats why this song didnt go over like the spastic teen anthem songs of their present

    strangly I to am a huge Pinl Floyd fan and this song was like a binding of two of my favorite bands sounds.

  13. After two decades of listening to their music this song has emerged as my favorite…one that I go back to very often. Can’t really put a finger on why…its a simple, deep and mysterious song that penetrates my soul much like Ament’s bass permeates the room when it sounds. Albeit a dark tune, McCready’s bends and distortion are flawless…sort of set me soaring much like Floyd’s “Dark Side”. Love it!!

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