If Vitalogy is the Pearl Jam album most crying out to be experienced on vinyl, then “Immortality” is the reason. While I’m not the world’s biggest collector, the “Immortality” 7″ is at the top of my list of coveted Pearl Jam items. The song deserves the experience of setting needle to record, in the dark or near-dark, and hearing the song heavy in the air, its waves replicated in wax, not as “immortal” as digital code, but temporal, fleeting, of the earth. And though my short list of quintessential Pearl Jam tracks is a lot longer than I’d anticipated, “Immortality” could never, ever, ever be excluded. It is one of a handful of truly defining moments in the band’s career, a song as enormous and infinite as its title. Performed live, its gravity never fails to draw in the audience’s attention like a black hole. The opening one-two of “Of the Girl” and “Immortality” at the Sendai, Japan show in 2003 remains one of my favorite pairings from all of the live sets I’ve been fortunate to hear. There is little to connect the two songs thematically or stylistically, but both wield dense atmosphere with uncommon grace.
Were it not for the late addition of “Stupidmop” to Vitalogy‘s end, “Immortality” would have been the closer. With that in mind, it’s important to remember the tone with which the song finishes as much as its primary sound. Though “Immortality” is most often characterized as a dirge, and understandably so, the entire song has a strong sense of rhythm and movement, a subtle sway that separates it from connotations of plodding and drag. This is especially apparent after Ed’s final words, when the song lifts out of its minor key fog, reclaims at least a semblence of optimism and groove, and trails off into the distance. The album’s seemingly most unforgivingly dark song actually provides its surest flicker of hope, the crocus after a long winter. Oh but what a winter, piled onto the hard ground of steel-stringed acoustic guitar, icy shards of cymbals, and a noticeably varied vocal performance by Ed, both strident and defeated. Mike McCready’s solos on “Immortality” are among my favorite (particularly at the 2:20 mark), serving the song more than mere embellishment, channeling the confusion and frustration of Vedder’s coded lyrics into singular lines as primal as waves carved in wax.