In the Moonlight
One of the most memorable quotes from the Lost Dogs liner notes is from the entry for “In the Moonlight”. Vedder writes, “Matt Cameron writes songs and we run to find step stools in order to reach his level.” It’s not at all hard to understand what he’s getting at with the churning, stutter-step Binaural outtake. Scratched in the eleventh hour from the tracklist along with three other tunes, it’s also not difficult to imagine why. As much as I enjoy the song, Pearl Jam generally likes to attempt most of their album material live. How the hell were they ever going to scrape out “In the Moonlight”? That they even considered its inclusion is admirable, even it was wishful thinking.
The original, ambitious 16 track Binaural attempted a format the band has long imagined, but never gone through with: to balance the harder-edged songs on one side, ballads on another. Had they not cut the record down to what we now know, “In the Moonlight” would have been a pretty drastic exception on side 2, sandwiched between “Soon Forget” and “Parting Ways”. Of course, it’s slower than “Grievance”, “Breakerfall” et al, but it features a chunky, grinding metal riff on the tricky-metered verses that make it the closest the band has come yet to sounding like Cameron’s former band, Soundgarden (think that band’s “Mailman”, another Cameron tune, except a little faster, and infinitely less terrifying).
The most intriguing development of “In the Moonlight” however, isn’t the brutish sound of its verses, but rather how it coexists perfectly with the moody noir-rock chorus of “A night bird is following of you all the time”, which also creates an atmosphere not found elsewhere in the Pearl Jam canon. Cameron’s lyrics are surprisingly evocative well, even gothic/romantic. I enjoy the “star-lined ceiling” and I’m a sucker for anything with birds. Cameron undermines his images however, with too many unnecessary adjectives that simultaneously tell the audience how to feel about them, and make them vague: “A beautiful star sea / A wonderful sense of beauty.” First of all, just give me the star sea, that’s beautiful enough without telling me it’s beautiful. As for “a wonderful sense of beauty”, that really doesn’t mean anything, or at least it’s a lot less than sending a bunch of night birds after me (to contradict myself, I actually like the vagueness w/r/t to what kinds of birds he’s talking about). “In the Moonlight” isn’t a stylistic detour that has borne much fruit, or could be expected to; but it’s a solid, interesting track nonetheless, and a worthy inclusion as an odd and/or sod.