Cropduster

I’ve always felt “Cropduster” to be one of the most under-appreciated Pearl Jam songs, though even from first listen it was apparent that the song would own that unfortunate destiny. The song has all of the qualities of a fan favorite, but an equal amount of turn-offs. It seems to constantly be shooting itself in the foot. Everything that makes “Cropduster” wonderful also contains a tinge of disappointment that has prevented it from making a bigger impact on listeners. The number one flaw with the studio version of “Cropduster” is the same complaint that can be made (and has been) for much of Riot Act: the lack of energy in the performance. Of course, one man’s lack of energy is another man’s laid back spirit. But “Cropduster” sounds like an aggressive song trapped in a midtempo song’s body, just a hairsbreadth slower than it should be played. Live, this hasn’t been as big of a problem, with “Cropduster” even being used once as an opener (Lexington, KY, 2003). But on record, it sort of feels like, “C’mon, get moving already!”

 

But pace aside, “Cropduster” is also one of my favorite Riot Act tracks right down to its title. It toes the line between catchy and bizarre, with Matt Cameron’s trademark cut-time and unexpected key changes. The second verse smartly changes up its presentation from the first. Vedder’s delivery of “Everyone is practicing / But this world’s an accident” prefigures similar vocal maneuvering in “Unemployable”, while McCready’s soloing is noticeably inspired, dancing around the shifting chords. “Cropduster” can’t be described as light or dark in tone; it lies comfortably (or un-) in between, a forest path cut across with sun and shadow. Mortality is explored as physical reality (“Swallowing seeds on my deathbed”) rather than spiritual, which will always remind me of Iron & Wine’s similar meditations on being “planted” rather than unnaturally preserved after you die. There are stark truths (“Dad, he’s gone up in flames / But this ain’t no movie”) and simple yet evocative images (“The moon is rolling ’round the world”) that speak to the inevitability of the life cycle and our part in it. “Cropduster” is strange, sad, and at the same time strangely, sadly comforting.

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~ by Michael on September 20, 2007.

5 Responses to “Cropduster”

  1. Unfortunately, in an album full of bad songs, I think this one was the worst. I wanted to love it and I tried for years, but I just can’t get into any aspect of the song (save perhaps the very end). That said, I was always fond of the song’s title. It at least has that going for it. But if someone can find enjoyment in “cropduster,” far be it for me to deny him or her that.

  2. The thing about this song is that if you take it in really deeply, it affects the way you see other PJ songs, like how I see Brain of J(see entry).

  3. “Cropduster” is one of the most eccentrically engineered Pearl Jam songs yet, and I think it’s one of the shining moments on Riot Act. I believe Riot Act to be the band’s most thematically consistent record, and I’ve always liked that the album that was written on the heels of the most significant political event(s) in Pearl Jam’s history, and produced a handful of inward-looking, existential meditations rather than a bunch of political ranting, a few noteworthy exceptions notwithstanding. “Cropduster” looks to the cosmos for answers; it’s a song about being at the center of something ever larger. No matter what you think you know, you really don’t know anything. It’s all the other way ’round.

    I’ve long believed that Eddie Vedder has to be one of the most spiritually confused people in the history of the world. In concert he has made statements that both renounce and accept the idea of a god, and his songs are chock full of sentiments which constantly place himself of the mercy of something infinitely larger. “Cropduster” plays with the idea of the universe as God, and I don’t know how sure Ed really is of everything he sings in it. In any case, I think it’s one of Ed’s most engaging lyrics, perfectly at home on Riot Act – which is, in my opinion, an album of great songs.

  4. This whole song represents what are, to me, some of Ed’s greatest lyrics. It’s like he’s channeling John Keats.

    The first verse, especially, is just beautiful.

    “Eyes, no eyes, there’s no difference….”

    Loved this song on first listen. Loved it even more Live on the 2003 tour.

  5. One of my top 5 songs from ‘Riot Act’.

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