Around the Bend
From “Let Me Sleep” to “Let You Sleep”; “Around the Bend” is arguably the most experimental track on Pearl Jam’s most experimental album. Why? The word “experimental” is overused, and I don’t exclude myself from that observation. What constitutes experimental is fairly wide open, it doesn’t have to mean Philip Glass or Oval or Marianne Amacher. For Ed Vedder, the decision to try writing a lullaby and then producing one as sweet and succinct as “Around the Bend”, well that’s a pretty bold move from the band that brought you “Even Flow”, “Spin the Black Circle”, and only minutes prior, “Habit”. From the Innocence Mission, or Ida, or Iron & Wine (to name a few “I” bands), not so revolutionary, but “Around the Bend” still manages to catch some fans off guard even after 11 years.
The song also features some of the band’s best production, with its balmy, relaxed atmosphere, steel guitar and sun-dappled piano chords. Ed sings as gently as he’s ever done, his fingers squeaking audibly over the chord changes. Vedder’s claim that some of the lyrics were tweaked to make it less sweet, and open to the interpretation that the song could be from the perspective of a cannibalistic serial killer initially pissed me off something awful. But traditional lullabies are often gruesome, filled with all sorts of unsavory business, including the ubiquitous “Rockaby Baby”. For its own part, “Around the Bend” features the curious lines “Please forgive me won’t you dear / Please forgive and let me share”, and a twinge of darkness in the suspended chords accompanying the title phrase. But I still much prefer the clear, literal interpretation in all its sweetness, a lullaby for Jack Irons to sing to his boy, or anyone to their children, wishing them off to untroubled sleep.