In My Tree
I’ve read thousands of record reviews (and have a written fair amount of my own). But while the insights that I gained from them have helped challenge my own critical faculties and become a better listener, whether I agreed with them or not, I rarely remember much if anything of their actual language. But there are two words that I’ve never forgotten from the Rolling Stone review of No Code, when the author described the guitars on “In My Tree” as “black” and “choleric”. This was to me a revelatory way to talk about the way a song sounded, but it also signaled the increasing ability of Pearl Jam to create music that was evocative beyond the paradigm of mainstream rock.
The end of the line for Vedder copyists and Pearl Jam copyists in general was 1995. If any band has used “In My Tree” as a template for their own sound, it’s either gone way under the radar, or it has taken that influence and used it credibly and honestly as a launching point for their own talents. That’s because “In My Tree” itself takes seemingly disparate elements and blends them to create an anti-anthem (in direct contrast to “Given To Fly” as we’ll soon see), meaning the song is as majestic and soaring as anything in their early catalog, yet achieves that quality by wholly different means.
Jack Irons’s tumbling drum rolls paired with a prominent Jeff Ament bassline immediately give the song a character distinct from any other in the band’s catalog. Some may point to “W.M.A.” as a progenitor, but “In My Tree” is decidedly less bombastic and much more interesting from a melodic standpoint. Vedder starts out low-key, making a break from the vitriol and resentment of songs like “Not For You”, and running for sweet sweet embrace of nature, a savior he would continue to turn to time and again from this point on. Then comes the “black” and “choleric” guitar work, echoing metallic slabs of sound from Gossard’s guitar that somewhat resembles the work of U2’s Edge had he spent the last 20 years in the wild a la John the Baptist.
“In My Tree” continues to build from there, intensifying through the second verse into a memorable semi-release, “Up here so high I start to shake / Up here so high the sky I scrape.” It’s only semi- because though the song constantly gains in momentum and power, it never fully breaks into any kind of familiar climax. There’s no traditional chorus; the closest the song comes to a pinnacle is a seething bridge, and even the moodiness of that section’s chords is undercut by the relief of the lyrics “Eddie’s down in his home / Oh the blue sky it’s his home.” Vedder’s lyrics also play with the convention of the standard Pearl Jam anthem model. Though they are typically self-examining, there’s humility in the attempt to submit one’s self to nature and achieve a more innocent state.
In this respect “In My Tree” is probably most representative of No Code as a whole, the first few steps in re-imagining Pearl Jam’s potential, purpose, and sound. Although the band would make further and more confident strides in this direction over subsequent albums, the quixotic nature of No Code, as typified by “In My Tree”, have endeared both record and song to many fans as quirky favorites which remind us of our own constantly changing, seeking, and struggling selves.