Mind Your Manners
Well shit. Don’t call it a Come Back, I’ve been here for years. Except for that whole “updating the blog” thing. I’ve thought about it, wrote a few things I never posted, slept in, had a few beers, got married, had a baby, moved to the country, all sorts of crazy stuff. But now’s as good a time as any to kick back in and cover whatever originals have come out since I left off–which I believe is 10/11 of Backspacer, the upcoming Lightning Bolt, and a few odds ‘n’ sods, I think. Suggestions welcome. Just mind your manners.
One of the reasons I think it was so difficult for me to keep this blog going right after Backspacer came out was that the songs were too shiny and new to develop any real perspective on. With every other album/song, I’d had at least a smidgen of history or nostalgia associated–enough to distance myself somewhat and try (hopefully) to make the blog something more than I like this song, I don’t like this other song. It takes time to develop a relationship with music that you care about, and one of the strange things about the current model of music promotion and the instantaneous nature of the internet, is that opinions get blasted in every direction long before anyone really knows what they’re holding in their hands… er…. ears.
So I stepped away from keeping this blog up, even though there were plenty of songs coming out worth mentioning or dissecting, and I stopped writing for an online music/culture journal as well. I just wanted to listen to the music I wanted to listen to, and not bother with explaining myself or the music to anyone but myself. It’s been amazing. But then of course the rumors start coming out about a new album, stacking up like pancakes until suddenly you’re sitting in front of a lumberjack’s breakfast after a night of heavy drinking and just daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmn, you can’t help but dig in. So here we are.
I don’t have very much distance from “Mind Your Manners” but I did rack up an unhealthy number of consecutive listens on both commutes yesterday, and gauge/temper my feelings about it. I overthought it, underthought it, and just plain enjoyed it. I remember loving “The Fixer” when that came out, ditto “World Wide Suicide,” but both of those songs are fairly unmemorable to me now. I don’t want to wonder about the longevity of MYM, the fan in me wants to believe it stay strong in my mind for x, y, and z reasons, but who can ever be sure? Right now it exists out of context, the way all lead singles do released months before their accompanying albums.
We have lots of questions, the most pressing of which is “Is it indicative of what’s to come?” Another, related question is “Is there any precedent for this in their earlier work?” I don’t have an answer for the first, and summoning a response to the second is tricky. Fans have already pointed to “Spin the Black Circle,” “Habit,” and “Got Some” as ancestral stock, and I guess I can see that. I can see how this song marries some of their earlier raw-throated punk songs with a bit of shiny studio polish a la Backspacer. The bridge in particular reminds me of “Gonna See My Friend.” But I also think it’s something different; I believe the band is actively trying to push themselves here rather than recapture or rehash. The beat in particular sounds like new ground for the band, a kind of shit-kicking rhythm that plaid kilted mohawked youths skronk to. McCready’s solo is also ragged and unsettling. And Ed’s scream at the end? Exhilarating. I honestly can’t think of the last Pearl Jam song to make my face scrunch up that way, though I’ve loved several as much but for different reasons.
What “Mind Your Manners” has really made me realize is just how little contemporary aggressive, “heavy” music I currently enjoy. I love King Animal of course, and have dabbled in Mastodon and Baroness thanks to some metal-loving friends. But I mostly find superficially quieter to music to have a much heavier impact that balls-out rock and roll, and I keep digging deeper into older music as well. I could give less than two craps about whatever’s on the radio. But Pearl Jam, and “Mind Your Manners” specifically, still work for me. The aggression feels earned, the vague, righteous fury–there’s something behind it that is more than fashion or style. It may be too early to know exactly what that something is, but it’s never too early to know that it works.