Well, it took 16+ years, but the last remaining Pearl Jam member without a lyric writing credit finally got his. Mike McCready has been one of modern rock’s most revered guitar gods almost since day one, and his musical contributions (“Present Tense”, “Brain of J”, et al) have always caused excitement and devotion among fans, but until “Inside Job” his pen-and-paper work had yet to surface. Granted, until No Code (at least as far as we all know), lyrics were the sole province of Ed Vedder, and why not? The standard for rock bands, with a few exceptions, is that the one with the microphone is the one writing the words. But over time, to everyone in the band’s credit, that unwritten rule slowly began to crumble into dust, and though it was admittedly a nervewracking experience for everyone to hand Ed a lyric sheet and say, “hey, how about this?”, Stone, Jeff, Matt, and now finally Mike have all taken the plunge.
The general fan reaction to McCready’s lyrics for “Inside Job” has been honest yet gracious. Most folks, myself included, seem happy that Mike felt comfortable enough to share and that the band was with him and saw the song through. On the page, there really isn’t much to recommend the song word-wise. Though the song is all about internal dialogue, its language is almost entirely that of emotions and feelings, without textural, sense-triggering imagery to balance. In that sense, there’s little to hang one’s hat on. “Holding on / The light of night / On my knees to rise and fix my broken soul” creates a kind of image, of man kneeling dramatically in the moonlight perhaps, but overall the lines are vague, overly reliant on words like “soul”, “light”, “hope”, “love”, “sin”, all enormous concepts that can weigh a song down without context.
To his credit though, McCready’s lyrics are fully supported by the music. If they don’t resonate off the page, they come through out of the speakers both because of Vedder’s nuanced performance, and the masterful and intricate structure of the song. If it wasn’t evident from “Present Tense” (and it was), Mike is Pearl Jam’s structural expert. Perhaps his greatest gift, beyond his lauded skills as a lead guitarist, is building and pacing compositions. Nothing this man creates ends up being short of epic, and if the band were to ever fully live out its Who-fixation and write a rock opera, I would expect McCready to conduct. As a closer, “Inside Job” is satisfyingly grand. Full of peaks and valleys, e-bows and pianos, the song bears the weight of otherwise clunky lines like “Let me run into the rain / To shine a human light today”. I’ll shine whatever human lights it takes so long as a song is as graceful and elegaic as “Inside Job”.