Life Wasted

There’s no messing around on the opener for Pearl Jam’s 8th studio album: no count-offs, no slow-building ballads or fade-ins, no miscues or salutations, just bang! and right into the song. No life, or time, wasted. Immediately, “Life Wasted” set itself apart from anything on 2002’s Riot Act, with the energy of the band’s live set translated into the studio performances as accurately as they ever had.  It started from a concerted effort to make the recording environment just right for the rhythm section of Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron to recreate their ferocity on stage.  And so, from the bottom up at the top of Pearl Jam, it’s full steam ahead.

Befitting a rock band with members already into their forties, “Life Wasted” is concerned with mortality, but where bands on the decline tend to spend their midlife crises on bad nostalgia trips or cynical dread, Pearl Jam is purposeful and forward-looking. Vedder once described the song by relating a story about leaving a funeral, that the car ride you take from the church or cemetery is one of the most important you’ll have in your life for reflecting on what it means to be alive.  Its this explanation that makes the most sense out of the gruesome liner note photography of Pearl Jam, and the “Life Wasted” video, where the bizarrely decaying heads of the band members almost seem to whisper “Carpe diem!” like something out of Dead Poets’ Society.

Every so often, from “Present Tense” to “Can’t Keep”, Vedder exults in writing a live-in-the-moment song. Forward motion, action, purpose—the very opposite of indifference and complacency. “Life Wasted” rightfully boasts a catchy chorus, as the song and its attitude are built to be infectious.  Gossard’s opening verse chord progression is full of momentum, while the breakdown between the verse and prechorus is like swinging a sledgehammer (and also belies some influence from Cameron).  Vedder returns here to his full-tilt, upper register delivery that many people missed on Riot Act, which may have more to do with “Avocado” being referred to as a “return to form” than any musical idea.

The one sticking point with uber-fans regarding “Life Wasted” is the fade at the very end. Anyone who couldn’t wait until May of 2006 for their copy, and downloaded the early leaks, had a 4+ minute version of the song to compare, and while I don’t think the fade is as egregious as the one at the end of “Wishlist”, I can’t convince myself of its necessity.  Regardless, “Life Wasted” was exactly the opening statement Pearl Jam needed to make on their J Records debut, and has appropriately become a staple of the past couple of tours.  Though the chorus from “Alive” has grown into being an affirmation over the years, it was initially despondent and confused.  “Life Wasted” effectively looks its demons in the eye, and banishes back where they belong.

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~ by Michael on June 15, 2007.

9 Responses to “Life Wasted”

  1. Great insight on the song, C13. I don’t need to expound on the song’s meaning. I think you hit it. The fade out at the end is indeed unfortunate. I’m not really a fan of the fade out….although both “Big Wave” and “Army Reserve” are more egregious offenders (is it just me or Jeff have trouble bringing a musical composition to a conclusion? More on that in another post maybe)…and of course, “Wishlist” might be the worst offender in the PJ catalogue. I’m convinced we could have gotten another good full verse out of that tune. Oh well.

    “Life Wasted” has becomem, in the last 13 months, my favorite album opener. As you perfectly said, no count-downs, no slow starts, just WHAM! A ferociously intense track to start a ferociously intense album. I had no idea what this song sounded like before May 2 of last year. I’m glad I waited to find out.

  2. This one is also my favorite album opener. That was a great write-up. The fade-out doesn’t bother me much. And I love the transition from LIFE WASTED into WWS. In fact the front five of this album are my favorite opening five of all the albums.

    Eddie does sing in a much more aggressive style than he did in Riot Act, but he doesn’t sound like he did back in the early days. Then he just sounded like he was shredding his vocal chords. Now his voice is more controlled. I’ve heard a lot of people comment that they don’t like this new style. That it doesn’t capture the “emotion” of the older style. What do you think of this?

  3. It’s hard for me to understand the argument that Ed does sing with the same “emotion” as he used to. I just don’t get it. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I don’t think it’s possible to quantify the amount of “emotion” is someone’s voice, because a) there are infinite shades of different emotions and b) everyone expresses them differently. I think people might be either substituting the fact that they themselves don’t feel the same emotion they used to when listening to Pearl Jam (most likely when they were hyper-emotional teenagers), or they’ve unfortunately come to associate “emotion” with a particular tonal sound—the one so aptly ripped off by legions of bands in the wake of Pearl Jam’s success, and also the reason “Jeremy” is more likely to be covered by one of the world’s American Idol shows and not, say, “Unemployable”.

  4. Ah i think this is the second best opener, only next to the ferocious Last Exit. There really isn’t much to dive into this song, but it gets its point across very quickly and very viloently.

  5. Some people think that Eddie is in good voice these days, but these are the types of comments that I read and hear pretty routinely regarding Eddie’s voice:

    “Eddie does absolutely not sound amazing nowadays. His voice was completely shot in Poland. His voice is getting weaker and weaker for every tour. He is still able to perform though and he is getting through the songs, but I can’t understand what you find so amazing about his voice on this tour.

    At least so far…”

    or

    “Thank god a voice of reason and reality!! Eddie should be smacked in the back of the head for allowing such an incredible god given voice be ruined by cigarettes!! Jackass!!! Remember how amazing he sounded on MTV Unplugged, those were the days. And the fool continues to smoke like a chimney!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    I found these in fan reviews at their official site. People long for the MTV Unplugged voice, and simply can’t get used to what he does now. I imagine that if most of your enjoyment of Pearl Jam comes from listening to Ten and shows from 1992, it would be pretty hard to appreciate anything after Vitalogy.

    Would Pearl Jam have been as successful initially if Eddie had been a more experienced singer? Despite his smoking, I don’t notice significant shortness of breath when I listen to bootlegs but others complain about it a lot. Have I just missed it? It seems to me that RELEASE was the best it’s ever been in 2006.

    Sorry to stray so far off-topic, but I often feel like I’m listening to something completely different from a lot of fans.

  6. Susan, I am on your side on this one. I am one of those people that thinks Ed still sounds great. There is no way that 16 years after releasing Ten, EV’s voice could still sound as strong, for long periods of time, as it did in 91. Every time they open with Release, it sounds amazing. His voice is in full form. But often times, but the time they get to the second encore and decide to play Comatose, Ed seems to be, understandably, straining. So while I side with Susan on this one wholeheartedly, I can also understand what some fans are talking about when they say, “Ed’s lost his voice” or “Ed can’t sing anymore.” I couldn’t disagree with those statements more vehemently, but I know why people are saying that.

    I’ve always considered this to be another argument that comes up when “Ten” PJ fans talk with “Post-Vitalogy” Pearl Jam fans. And I think you know what I mean. Some people still think EV’s voice should be as strong, day in and day out, as it was during Ten/Vs. time and that’s just not possible. Age will not allow it. So you’re forced to either accept that Ed is going to become a more melodic/experimental lead singer rather than one of brute force (like the old days), or you’re probably just not going to enjoy this band much any more. That’s how I look at it….but I’m just adding to the discourse. It’s a very interesting topic of discussion.

  7. It is very interesting. I’m with you both, NoCoder & Susan. I really don’t hear what the fuss is about. I don’t noticed a marked difference in his voice tther than what could naturally be expected. And I don’t tend to qualify those types of changes as “good” or “bad”, “better” or “worse”, at least in terms of his natural tone. If it changes for whatever reason, I can’t see any value judgment being placed on it, although people not liking it anymore is perfectly valid.

  8. This is sooooo off-topic, considering it has nothing to do with Life Wasted, but I actually think the “unfortunate” fade out on Wishlist is perfectly fitting.

    The last line of the song, actually, is “I guess it never stops.” And the song never does. I think that was done intentionally, and I think it’s pretty cool to be honest.

    Now, about Life Wasted. I love it. I love most everything about it. My favorite part, both musically and lyrically, is that little bridge bit that begins “darkness comes in waves …” etc

  9. […] Life Wasted 2. World Wide Suicide 3. Comatose 4. Severed Hand 5. Marker in the Sand 6. Parachutes 7. […]

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