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.


~ by Michael on July 9, 2007.

7 Responses to “In the Moonlight”

  1. This song and Fatal are my favorite off Lost Dogs. C13 is right about the band steering away from songs that don’t translate in a live setting. Maybe it sounded too much lke Soundgarden (I wouldn’t know) and being it was Matt’s first record that was something to avoid.

  2. Believe you me is right, it does sound very Soundgarden- ish. It was probably Matt himself who voted to pull it out, out of creative respect to himself, pearl jam, and the rest of Soundgarden. It is a very intricate song, and is a chore to listen to. So maybe the fact that Ed tries to get to Matt’s level or even to think about it is not very reassuring or exciting, I wouldn’t be too excited to see an album full of songs like “In The Moonlight”.

  3. I don’t listen to this song enough. It’s definitely interesting. but I’m not sure it’s good. If that makes any sense. Maybe it’s just too challenging for my Philistine mind, I dunno.

  4. There is a beautiful, if little-heard, improv that the band did in Nuremburg on 6/11/00. It’s beautiful and the lyrics referred to the moon. For the longest time, I was content to believe that this was the infamous “In the Moonlight” that had been cut from the initial “Binaural” tracklist.

    Of course, when “Lost Dogs” was released, I realized I couldn’t be farther from the truth. I enjoy the real “In the Moonlight” but I’ve always had trouble with what I consider to be awkward drum beats. I realize that’s a very elementary way to explain it, but when tempo and time signatures (and I don’t really know much about those) are changed, seemingly in mid-song, it always throws me off. This is a perfect example of that for me. I really dig the musica and the lyrics, but the odd tempo always keeps me at arm’s length.

  5. That’s an interesting point. And it’s perfectly reasonable to be thrown off. Our ears are used to hearing one of a small handful of time signatures. The vast majority of popular music is structured around a 4/4 beat, and maintains that signature for the entire song. Less popular, but still ingrained in Western music, is 3/4 and 6/8 time, which not only exists for waltzes and polkas, but some sea shanties, but folk, pop, doo-wop, etc.

    So when we listen to any song, that’s what we subconsciously expect, and when our expectations are confounded or not met, it’s hard to know what to do. We WANT to be able to anticipate the next beat and feel comfortable when we can. We naturally feel a bit uncomfortable when we can’t. Other styles of music regularly deviate from 4/4, including jazz and classical. Matt Cameron has been known to do some jazz drumming, so perhaps that’s why he’s able to hit on strange rhythms (someone with a better sense of music theory than I could say exactly what’s going on on “In the Moonlight”, my best guess is that he’s playing cut time, taking a standard time signature and just occasionally dropping a beat out here and there, but I’m probably very wrong).

    Sufjan Stevens is a good example of a popular musician who plays around with a lot of time signatures, and most of them are pretty easy to figure out. Sometimes he’s 5/4, sometimes 9/8. The song “Come on Feel the Illinoise!” starts in 5/4, then goes right into 4/4 for the second half. You can count out the beats in groupings of 5 pretty easily in the first half, and it’s interesting to hear what that does to the tone and feel of the song.

  6. C13, that was a great explanation of time signatures. I agree that IN THE MOONLIGHT doesn’t so much have time signature changes as dropped beats that throw off the listener. I really like this tune although I don’t think that it would have worked well on Binaural. I believe that this is one of the tunes that went the distance with Tchad Blake and the binaural sound. It seems to me that part of the spooky quality is a result of that sense of space. I love the vocals and the dynamic quality of Matt’s drumming.

    Does anyone else “feel” the binauralness?

  7. “Talking about odd time signatures?” … Danny Carey’s the man to ask. 🙂

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