Sometimes

“Once”, “Go”, “Last Exit”, “Sometimes”: One of these things is not like the others. “Sometimes” was not only the quietest, subtlest Pearl Jam album opener to date in 1996, it remains so to this day. A prayer of humility, of abandon, of leaving oneself open to the unknown and uncontrollable, “Sometimes” is also one of the band’s most uniquely structured compositions.

Were it not for the opening string of guitar notes, which would resemble similar patterns in “MFC”, “Sad”, “Rearviewmirror”, and “Corduroy” if sped up considerably, one might never guess that Vedder was responsible for “Sometimes”. Ament’s bass lolls and swoops around the arrangement like a bumblebee drunk on pollen, while various guitar and percussion effects flutter through. Vedder sings close to the mic, warmly, a 180-degree turn from anything on Vitalogy, hell, anything before that.

Though the song has been mostly used as an opener, particularly on recent tours, and has generally heralded some of their most eclectic sets, “Sometimes” on record does not feel like it was written to be heard. I don’t mean this at all in the sense of the song being an outtake. Rather, every song Pearl Jam song through the first three records felt like the audience was a part of the song–either directly or indirectly. Directly, songs like “Not For You” and “Leash” were directed at individuals or groups. Indirectly, the extroverted, performance-oriented nature of Pearl Jam’s brand of hard rock always felt it was created to be a shared experience–even the extremely isolated “Indifference” was more seance than soliloquy.

But “Sometimes”, in the best way possible, feels like it was written purely for the satisfaction of Vedder himself, whether or not anyone would ever hear it. The result was that it was not only a major turning point in his singing and songwriting, but also why listeners were largely puzzled and disoriented when they put No Code on for the first time. It marked the first occasion where Vedder’s questioning nature wasn’t defensive, or righteously pissed off, or even sad. “Sometimes” was simply human, which pop music audiences have unfortunately been trained to hear as boring or undramatic.

I find “Sometimes” quite the opposite, right down to the way the separate sections of the song are barely separate, how even the song’s climax is tempered, reined in, private. All of this plays in contrast to the fact that the character of the song is of being overwhelmed with all of the nuance and complexity of life. The anaphora of “Sometimes I…” starts to steamroll toward the end of the song, completed by all sorts of knowing, not knowing, rising, falling, certainty, uncertainty, but quickly dies away again with Vedder’s breath as he sings, “Sometimes I reach to myself, dear god.” If “Sometimes” doesn’t make my all-time top 10 song list (and it might), this moment surely makes my top 10 moment list. I always get the feeling that I’m witnessing something truly special, that one doesn’t normally get a glimpse of from their rock and roll heroes–a complete lack of self-consciousness.

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~ by Michael on May 23, 2007.

7 Responses to “Sometimes”

  1. This is my favorite opener. It gives the listener a perfect, three-minute preview of what No Code is going to be….a new direction for the band. This song seems so small and personal. C13 hit on it exactly…it sounds like a song not meant to be heard. It is one of my top 10 pj songs for sure. on a side note, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that there have been so many times when I’ve been really into Sometimes and I turn it way up to hear all the subtleties of the song, only to be SMACKED in the face by the opening chords of Hail, Hail! So now, I’m smart enough to put No Code in, skip to HH, check the sound levels, and then go back to Sometimes.

  2. You said what I’ve always thought about this song. It really doesn’t feel like a song at all, but a series of personal observations and revelations that are an intro to what will be a collection of very personal songs and musical interludes.

    You also note that the warm, gentle singing style that we now take forgranted was something completely new with No Code. That style has now come to reshape the performance of many of the early songs. For my part, I love it, and No Code is one of my favorite albums. I think that it might have been quite successful if it had been marketed to a more mature audience, but as we know, marketing wasn’t something Pearl Jam wanted to do at all during this period.

    I have an image of fratboys sitting around a keg of beer with their new Pearl Jam album expecting something along the lines of ONCE and getting SOMETIMES.

  3. It creates the right atmosphere for their more experimental album, I really like the way that Hail, Hail comes after this one. The quiet ending of Sometimes comes in perfect contrast with the powerfull chords of Hail, Hail’s intro

  4. When i was turned on to Ten a few years back, i began to collect an album a week, in chronological order. When i came home and put No Code in the CD player, all my pre-conceptions of what this band were and what they would be were blown away the second Sometimes kicks in.

    I hope to see this at least once this year, as i think the last time they tried to play it, they made it through the first verse before they abandoned the song cause Ed forgot the lyrics…

  5. That pretty much summed up what I always thought about that song, too. I think I´ve just been unable to express what I really thought about it. But to me, that goes with every grest song you know. You´re unable to really put your feelings to words.

  6. I always thought the lyric was “Your god and you got big hands”…. then I realized it is actually “You’re god and you got big hands” That slight difference from “Your” to “You’re” really changed my perspective of this song.

  7. […] Sometimes 2. Hail, Hail 3. Who You Are 4. In My Tree 5. Smile 6. Off He Goes 7. Habit 8. Red Mosquito 9. […]

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