Big Wave

For all of my love of Pearl Jam, in that I regard it as the band’s best front-to-back collection of songs since No Code, I’ve had to concede in the year since its release, that it is understandably not everyone’s cup of tea.  I’ve never understood many critics’ contention that the album represented a “return to form”, that it somehow recalled either in spirit or sound the band’s first three ginormously successful albums.  And no song better validates this trepidation than “Big Wave”.  If I were someone who had let go of the band after the first few bars of “Who You Are”, and slumbered until “World Wide Suicide”, what would I make of “Big Wave”?  There are some characteristics of the song that are distinctly Pearl Jam, particularly the nautical theme, and the grinding Ament-penned riffs.  But what of the harmonized vocals, the pop-inspired whoah-oh-oh’s and yeah-yeah’s, the playful lyrical rhyming, the odd, scraping breakdowns/bridges?  “Big Wave” is the closest the band has come to putting an Ed Vedder b-side pop experiment on record (or a Music for Our Mother Ocean offering), despite the fact that Ament was responsible for the music.  It’s inordinately catchy, and seemingly lightweight in comparison to the rest of the album.  “Big Wave” sticks out. So, in many ways, I can’t begrudge anyone who balks at it, or wonders at its inclusion on the record, especially when songs like “Of the Earth” and “Cold Concession” exist somewhere, tempting us with their unknowable charms, which we can imagine to be superior to those of “Big Wave”, if we wish.  But in the band’s designs, a bit of lightness has become necessary, welcome, even treasured over the years.  A bit of pop, a taste of crab, is a means of exceeding limitations, achieving levitation, yeah yeah yeah.

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~ by Michael on July 29, 2007.

16 Responses to “Big Wave”

  1. C13, I love your sense of humor. Like you, I’m up for a taste of crab.

    There are two things that I don’t really understand about “Pearl Jam”, the album. First, why is it is so often described as a return to their roots? A return to Ten? Vs? Vitalogy? Do critics really believe that “Pearl Jam” sounds like any of those aside from being an album by Pearl Jam? Second, I have to confess that I don’t understand why so many of the Pearl Jam cognoscenti are so down on “Pearl Jam” the album. When I’m talking to other Pearl Jam fans, I sometimes feel that I have to apologize for my poor taste in loving it. BIG WAVE seems to bear the brunt of the complaints.

    On the other hand, when BIG WAVE is played live, the whole audience seems to rock out to it. Are all these people not Pearl Jam fans, but mutant replacements?

  2. It is a strange phenomenon. One could probably get a degree majoring in the psychology of fandom. I’m guilty of a lot of the same crap, standing in a crowd at a show, wanting to be a sourpuss about not getting enough rarities but still enjoying “Rearviewmirror”. And the critics baffle me as well, so much that I attempted to cut them off at the pass with my own review, about how the idea of a “back to basics” Pearl Jam album was fictional. The album couldn’t possibly exist without everything that came before it.

    Also, one major peeve that I’d planned on saving until “Unemployable”: the fans’ charge that the “oh’s” sound like Shania Twain. If one’s frame of reference is so limited as to imagine Shania Twain as a bigger influence on than hook than the Pretenders, then damn… just… damn! 🙂

  3. Keep it coming, C13. I’m dying to hear about UNEMPLOYABLE.

  4. Susan, I can’t speak for all fans who don’t love ‘Avocados’ but for me, I think my expectations were too high. The band really pumped this one up more than ever. I think the comparisons made with earlier PJ albums was because that was what McCready and them were saying at the time. Sounds like Vs. etc…

    I remember being one of the first people to hear Self-Titled (I leaked it to ‘theskyiscrape’ in my excitement, sorry, never again) and I was pumped about this song called Big Wave. I still like the song but it just doesn’t fit the mood of the album. (I originaly thought the lyric ‘exceding limitations’ was “seedy imitations” which is a nod to Scott Stapp.)

  5. BYM, I remember Mike saying that, and it was very misleading. What is it about “Pearl Jam” that disappointed you? What were your expectations, or were they not fully formed, this just wasn’t “it?” I’ve also got to ask this, but don’t say anything if you can’t. If you were able to leak the album before it was released, have you also heard the outtakes?

  6. The poppy hooks of this song are what makes me love it. Me and my friend were having an interesting conversation the other day about how although we are both hardcore PJ fans we are attracted to diferent sides of their music.

    For example, when Avocado was released, Big Wave was my immeadiate favourite, with Unemployable, another song with undeniable pop roots, a close second. My friend on the other hand was in love with Army Reserve, a song which at the time didn’t reach out and grab me at all.

    I guess this is a testament to PJ that they can draw in fans with a variety of different styles. Props must go out to Jeff for writing the riff for this, i don’t think there is a song of his i dislike (other than the disaster that was Sweet Lew).

    Back to the Avocado, and while C13 raises an interesting point about other more worthy songs being included in BW’s place, whether fans enjoy this song or not, i think that few would disagree that it is necessary to keep the listener hooked throughout the album – After a 5 song opening barrage of rock n’ roll, unparalelled on any other PJ release, the placement of Parachutes allows us to catch our breath, Unemployable, although lyrically heavier, gradually eases us back into rock mode, before Big Wave lets us have 3 mins of fun.

    If it had been replaced by another rocker in the form of, say, cold concession (i am of course speculating here), it would have been 1 too many, and many would be tempted to turn off, or at least their interest would wane as they are lead back into darker waters with Army Reserve and Come Back.

    In other words, love it or hate it, Big Wave is a song that is necessary for the Avocado to fill its reputation as ‘comeback album’

  7. I’m with the Big Wave Rider…3 minutes of fun, lighten up. And I’ve been known to surf…I won’t bore you with “PJ’s Best of…Surfing Tunes!!!”, (look for the 8 track in a dashboard at a beach near you!), but needless to say, surfers dig PJ, and PJ digs surfers and this song adds to that catalogue. And if Shania Twain wants to hang out, that’s cool too. She’s not too hard on the eyes. And after catching some waves and beach blanket bingoing with Shania, if you feeling like it’s too much for you, we can go back and do the “World Wide Suicide” if you want. Maybe just repeat the title over and over with arms outstretched and a candle burning up my arm.

  8. I enjoy Big Wave when itt comes on, although it’s not one of my favorites. For me, it serves as ‘selt-titled’s pit stop. You’ve got those first five huge tracks, then into Parachutes/Unemployable and by the time I get there, I’m ready for a break. Big Wave, for me, is the break, even though it’s up-tempo. Because after that, you go into what for me has become the best part of the album. Gone/Wasted Reprise/Army Reserve/Come Back/Inside Job. To my ears, those last five songs are so heavy and important (although my iffiness on Gone has been expressed before) that I need a complete throwaway song like Big Wave to break up the album. So I’m glad it’s there. I do contend though that it has the worst outtro of any recorded PJ song. I hate it. Oh well.

  9. I’m not a huge fan of Big Wave. I neither love it or hate it. I don’t pout when they play it live.

    But I will say, No Coder, that the only part I really LOVE is the outro. The way the guys seem to somehow coax beach sounds out of their guitars. Always thought that was beyond cool. but anyway …

  10. Susan, I got it from a friend who got it from a friend who apparently has some inside connections. I’ve never heard an outtake, nor has my friend or his buddy.

    My bet is that a lot of those songs, Of the Earth, Cold Concession etc just changed titles. I can’t imagine a song that was mentioned in multiple pre-album interviews not making the record.

    Lastly, I like “Pearl Jam” the album, I’m just not in love with it. (I wish I can say the same for you). I can’t put my finger on why this is, maybe because it is their first album I haven’t seen a significant growth or progression in sound. I wish I could elaborate more, but it is probably just a personal taste thing.

  11. BYM: I’ve wondered this too, except that a lot of pre-album descriptions of songs don’t really pan out. “Of the Earth” was apparently written by Vedder and sounded like a cross between Genesis and Sleater-Kinney. “Cold Concession” was a jammier song that was pared down from an original length of 11+ minutes. I can’t really match these up with anything. Or “2×4” for that reason.

  12. I think “Pearl Jam” is a back to form album…back to Yield. I think the records are too similar even down to the blue- ish art work. Big Wave is another MFC and I’m surprised it even got included.

  13. This is what I think, C13.

    ‘Cold Concession’ has to be ‘Inside Job’ because of the length of the song plus the running in the rain line.

    ‘Of the Earth’ is probably ‘Worldwide Suicide’ which went through some dramatic changes per the band, especially with the chorus. World=Earth. Also, Ament said “Of the Earth” sounded Who-ish and McCready said WWS sounded like the Who in a later interview.

    ‘2×4’ is probably ‘Life Wasted’ because they said it was a harder edge song, plus ‘Life Wasted’ was never brought up in the interviews. ‘2×4’ is not WWS or Severed Hand, since they were mentioned in the same article.

  14. ….and 2×4 was also mentioned with ‘Marker’ so that eliminates all the hard songs except “Comatose” and ‘Big Wave’. We know it’s not Comatose, and it’s most likely not Big Wave. (Army Reserve isn’t really harder-edge)

    ‘2×4’ may be an outtake, I have been wrong before. (not often though)

  15. I think you are wrong as Cold Concession was written by all 5 members, Of The Earth was a Gossard song, and 2×4 was a Matt Cameron/McCready collaboration.

  16. Where did you hear such things about 2×4 and CC? I never read any of that, I have all the old articles on my computer.

    Jeff – “One is called ‘Of the Earth,’ that’s a song Ed wrote that is kind of a cross between early Peter Gabriel/ Genesis and Sleater-Kinney with, like, the Who’s Live at Leeds or something.”

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