Sleight of Hand

Whatever gripes some fans might have with Binaural, it’s hard to argue with the beauty of the artwork, the hourglass nebula, the eagle nebula with its nascent stars, the sheer magnitude of the shapes and structures is overwhelming and powerful. No song quite captures the spectral nature of the photography like “Sleight of Hand”, which were it not for its earth-bound lyric, would make great background music at a planetarium.  The glassy-textured guitars swirl through the mix, over Cameron’s odd-metered drum pattern, while Vedder spins his tale about a different kind of drifting.

It might be interesting to take a poll of folks who are persuaded by Ament’s other offerings if they feel the same way about “Sleight of Hand”, with its twinkling ambiance balanced by grinding choruses. My guess is that the song is a special sort of fan favorite, a dark horse. As for me, I’m not particularly moved by the lyric, although that could change come mid-life crisis, but I find it’s always worth it to sink into the celestial arrangement of another late-period Pearl Jam anti-anthem.  The choruses feel heroic in the same way as earlier material, but the rest of the song shrugs it off, much more concerned with texture, color, and unique sounds.  As a fairly rare live occurrence, I was grateful to hear it in person back in ’06.


~ by Michael on July 5, 2007.

9 Responses to “Sleight of Hand”

  1. I’ve heard the song live twice, in 2000 and then again during the Vote For Change tour. I wish I could donate to someone who really wanted to hear it.

    I have tried, again and again, to come to an appreciation of “Sleight of Hand,” but I can never get to that point. I know that I should like it. I know it’s a decent song. I know some people love it. And I know it’s one of those songs that you should say you like, because it makes you look as if you’re musically intelligent.

    But the plodding guitar work and stumbling, off-beat percussion throws me off every single time. I actually enjoy the lyrics in the song, but it’s the music that always keeps me at arm’s length. As C-13 alluded to, this song may find me later in life and really have an impact. But right now, and for the past seven years, I just cannot get into it.

  2. All I need to love a song is great lyrics. I’m a word guy. If a great piece of poetry happens to have awesome music to it, I consider it to be just a bonus.

    What I love about this song is that it is not about something big and dramatic. It isn’t about suicide, or sexual abuse or an abusive husband or war or divorce. It is about a guy who is basically OK — except for that one hidden part of him that wonders, “Is this all life is about?” I can relate to this song more than any other in the PJ catalogue. I often have moments if I wonder if this life is exactly what I envisioned for myself. And if not, how exactly did I get from there to here? Frankly, I think it’s something everyone can relate to. It’s not about a mid-life crisis. It’s just about life.

    I don’t think anybody on Earth, even those of us who are generally satisfied with life, are exactly who they want to be. This song taps into that deep-seeded discontent.

    I think this song also represents an interesting step forward in ed’s writing. In this song, he doesn’t need the big dramatic event to create drama. The conflict in this song is subtler than in most of his other compositions. And I dig it.

    This might be my favorite PJ song.

  3. Great input SoJ! I will listen to SoH with renewed interest.

  4. yeah nice input SoJ. I think our interpretations vary just slightly. In my mind the character actually commits suicide at the end of the song.

    ‘Time to dream to himself, waves goodbye to himself, see you on the other side, another man moved by sleight of hand.’

    In this case, the sleight of hand isn’t a magic trick but the pulling of a trigger. This may be an overly morose interpretation, but that’s how I usually view it. After 9/11 I started hearing songs differently from Binaural. That album spookily foreshadows the events that took place during and after our country’s biggest tragedy. Binaural sounds as if it was written after these horrible events, rather than in 1999. Now when I hear ‘Sleight of Hand’, I always think about the victims, whether it be a policeman, fireman, or businessman.

    • Believe you me, I agree with your interpretation.

    • What makes this song special in part is that it’s not about a dramatic thing. It’s just about life. I feel like most of us have a had a moment, early in the morning on the way to work, on a day we do not feel like be ourselves, where we wonder if this is really anything close to what we wished for ourselves as kids or younger men. I know I have. I think back to the wide eyed teenager I was, wishing and hoping for great things and for happiness. But instead we can wake up going to a job we either hate or tolerate on a road we know by fuckin heart, and we have to think if it’s too late to be someone else. To be something greater. It’s certainly a somber feeling.

      The entire lyrics are just brilliant and the music is so evocative, but the line that jumps out as me is: ‘not remembering the change/not recalling the plan/was it….?’. We try to think back to the moment where we became who we are, the moment we went down the path that lead us to this exact moment. What was our goal? What did we want to be and why are we not that?

      If you haven’t ‘gotten’ this song but love pearl jam, maybe you’ve been lucky enough to not feel so insecure about yourself or maybe you just haven’t gotten to that point yet. I totally get that the weird rhythm and listless, desperate way Eddie sings isn’t for everyone. But I’ll never forget the first time I heard it wearing headphones, and the first time I really heard the lyrics, in my car on the way to work.

  5. I disagree with your assessment, obviously.

    It says in the first line of the first chorus that the main character is “OK” just “wondering about wandering” — it doesn’t sound like a guy ready to off himself. Nothing else in the song really does, to my ears.

  6. This is also one of my favorite songs, slightofjeff, and i dig your words above. i would like to add, for me anyway, that that hard to pinpoint feeling you mention of Slight of Hand being a song about nothing dramatic, just life, is right on…and, for me, perhaps because of such great lyrics and sound to match, the feeling hits so deeply in SoH that it carries into the next two songs on Binaural…and, for me anyway, creates a quiet and very powerful little album-ending trilogy about nothing dramatic except moving through life…and also, for me anyway, IS Binaural. The other songs are there, and they’re great, of course, but this final set gives it what I need…and is the only reason I ever go back to Binaural.

  7. I love how they put so much crunch and weight when the heavy part kicks in.

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