Force of Nature
When you get in on the ground floor of a band, let’s say it’s 1992 and you’re only 13 years old, every song is huge, a world of its own that you revisit and inhabit with each listen. Of course you have your favorites, but even the songs you don’t care for as much are important. They are part of the album and, at least in 1992, albums are sacred things.
Most bands that have been around as long as Pearl Jam shed fans at similar rates, losing roughly as many early fans as they gain in younger fans discovering them for the first time. And those that stick around get disgruntled, nitpicky. As the amount of songs in the catalog grows, there are more to compare them to. And in the age of mp3s, the importance of the album has been diminished. Fans can reconstruct, compile, reorder their collections however they want.
Whenever a new Pearl Jam album would come out–at least from Vs. to No Code, I was mesmerized. Each new direction broke new ground, added a new color to their palette, whatever cliche you prefer. I still perform the ritual of listening to a new Pearl Jam album on headphones the day it comes out, but as the amount of music I listen to and own (both of Pearl Jam’s and of many, many other acts) has increased almost exponentially, I am less beholden to the preciousness of each individual song. I no longer feel as if it’s an act of betrayal to not want to spend my time in the world of a song that I just flat-out don’t like.
What does this have to do with Force of Nature? I flat-out don’t like it. Before putting it on a week or so ago to remind myself, I couldn’t remember anything about it. This isn’t to say I didn’t give it a chance when it came out, or that I feel other people shouldn’t enjoy it–everyone’s got to have a favorite, I’m sure someone who thinks I’m crazy for raving about “Johnny Guitar” thinks “Force of Nature” is the shit–but that there is only so much time in my life I want to devote to such things.
I was ecstatic about Backspacer when it came out, and I still have no real bone to pick with it as a whole, but when I’m riding shotgun in my wife’s car and I’m playing DJ, I’m less tempted to play the album start to finish than I am any other Pearl Jam album. I’ll play the songs I like and that’s it. “Force of Nature” is a curio. I listen to it when I want to see if my tastes of changed, and then I promptly realize that they haven’t.
Listening to it right now on headphones, I find that it’s not terrible, not wince-inducing. There are things about it that I like–the bridge, the little, almost imperceptible production touches. But overall it’s just a little too conventional. It’s midtempo, vaguely anthemic, with some skronky 80’s guitarwork that personally turns me off. I just don’t see what it adds to the album or the canon. And it’s songs like these that have me torn between adhering to the discipline of album-listening that I still think is important and worth it, and the feeling that I’m wasting my precious music-listening time for doing so.