Listening to Otis Redding on a long drive back from a July 4th function, my thoughts turned to “Come Back”, the one original Pearl Jam track to bear out the promise of the 3/26/1994 performance of “(Sitting on the) Dock of the Bay”. At least partially. The soul/R&B influence on the song is present but not overwhelmingly so. There’s a nifty 6/8 time signature the band rarely indulges in, a chord progression that rarely deviates from the classic I’s, IV’s, and V’s, and a strong, torch ballady performance from Vedder, but it’s still all wrapped up in a rock and roll context that delivers, and to some, absolutely testifies.
According to the singer, “Come Back” is part two to the part one of “Man of the Hour”, which also utilizes a distinctive style, though completely different from that of its sequel. Lyrically, the song is simple and sweet, befitting its soul origins which seem to beg for emotional directness. As a song that communicates with someone who has passed on (a device known as “apostrophe”), the song is no doubt stronger than if it had been a more traditional lament. It also reminds me most of “Release”, where Vedder sings “Oh dear Dad, can you see me now?” I find these moments particularly touching, that despite an aversion to organized religion as evidenced by “Marker in the Sand” and documented comments throughout the years, Ed demonstrates a kind of loose spirituality, and the romantic idea that one should be able to speak with the deceased (“Letter to the Dead”, ahem).
Pearl Jam was widely regarded as some kind of “return to form”, as if all of the growth and expansion of sound in the years prior had only led the band in a circle. But “Come Back” is just one reminder that the band has too great a sphere of influences and inspirations to be limited to a particular approach or style. I would hesitate to include the song with my own favorites from that album, but I’m pleased by its inclusion, and even more intrigued by what it might bode for the future.