A short list of some things I love: birds, traveling, landscapes, songs that express complex ideas/emotional states. I have to believe that Jeff Ament loves these things two, particularly that last item, as most of his lyrics for Pearl Jam tend to use cryptic language, half-phrases and snippets of imagery to forward their purpose(s). “Low Light” is perhaps the best example of this, and as of yet Ament’s finest lyrical hour. Songs like “Ghost”, “Pilate”, and “Gods Dice” are occasionally clunky, with one or two lines that somehow slipped past better judgment; “Low Light”, while just as obscure, is thoroughly graceful and poignant in its language.
The problem with most mainstream pop music is that what you hear is exactly what you get, i.e.: this is a breakup song, this is “You’re not good enough for me song”, this is a “I love you and am happy about it” or a “I love you even though I should know better” song. There’s nothing that challenges listeners to think in critical or new ways about themselves or their world (though the danceable aspect of pop music is not to be underestimated, worth-wise). I love “Low Light” for, among other reasons, it’s distinctly Ament-ish expression of the state of mind he further described in an interview: “It was a kind of gratefulness at finding that place of calm and peace at my center and getting a glimpse of the person I could choose to be.”
It’s as difficult to express in normal language exactly what he’s trying to get across, never mind fragments like “Voice goes by / Two birds is what they’ll see / Getting lost upon their way.” But it works perfectly in context with the music, which achieves the centered calm Ament articulates above. Which is not to say that the song is happy or sad; “Low Light” is neither and both, the same way that human beings at any given moment are a cluster of opposites, understanding and not understanding, grateful and grieving, longing and accepting, all of the above. Some lunkhead once reviewed Yield and used “Low Light” as an example of how Pearl Jam’s influence had unfortunately led to bands like Hootie & the Blowfish. It wasn’t just a case of rock critic snobbery, but a truly ridiculous statement to make if you know anything about music. Ament’s tune is all about subtlety and impressionism, achieving its mood through odd meters and rhythmic shifts, rustic yet original arrangements, as much as through verbal language. When Pearl Jam finally unveiled the song in a live setting, 3.5 years after the release of its album, fans were understandably and rightfully overjoyed. “Low Light” is a treasure.