No matter how long or varied a musician’s career, there are going to be little quirks and techniques that return again and again, due to a particular fascination with a melodic idea, rhythm, harmony, or stylistic fluorish. Weathering deteriorating or improving voices and instrumental ability, there are familiar themes and motifs, comfortable both to artist and listener. While his music has certainly evolved, Vedder obviously has several lyrical themes and musical ideas that have repeated with variations over the years. Whether or not that had anything to do with the decision to stick “Sad” (aka “Letter to the Dead”) on the sidelines is unknown, but the song’s strong similarities to “Corduroy” and other Vedder-penned tracks makes it instantly recognizable as such.
The spindly little guitar figure that announces “Sad” is unmistakably Vedder. A More Than Ten reader mentioned in a comment to another post that the singer studied guitar in Spain at one point, which I hadn’t heard but would appear to make sense. Without betraying a full-blown flamenco influence, there are hints of that style in “Sad”, enough to give it a slightly exotic quality apart from most of the band’s output. Ament described “Sad” as a pop song, acknowledging Vedder’s growing proficiency in writing terse, catchy tunes. But “Sad” is no “Undone”, “U”, or “Leatherman”. There’s a darkness in both the lyrics, which are indeed sad, and the minor-key based music that keep the song from both achieving the breezy playfulness of Vedder’s other pop experiments, and the majestic anthemic, nature of “Sad”‘s kindred.