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 Post subject: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 2:44 am 
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This is a long piece, since it's three in one (I had fallen behind) - half review/half guided tour. For those of you who like this kind of thing, enjoy. For those of you who don't, this seems like a good time to remind you that you can always choose not to read things that will hurt you :)

Eddie Vedder's Solo Work 2020-2022


In Song of Myself, 51, Walt Whitman writes “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” As an artist, Eddie Vedder’s identity has been irrevocably chained to Pearl Jam, and the idea of Eddie Vedder that fronts them. Earnest, empathic, creator of large, serious, sweeping statements, deadly serious in intent. Authentic, as well. The private man who finds a way to create intimate connections in huge moments, who annihilates barriers between performer and audience, musician and listener.

All of this is part of who Eddie Vedder is. But it’s not the entirety of who he is, and fans who have followed Eddie for year have caught glimpses of that other Eddie. The wry humor that comes forward in his interviews. His own gushing fandom of artists great and small (and his refusal to draw that distinction). An encyclopedic knowledge of music history that enables Pearl Jam to cover almost any band on that band’s terms, and a vast array of heroes and influences not regularly centered in his Pearl Jam writing (which pulls pretty consistently from your Neil Youngs, Bruce Springsteens, The Whos, and The Ramones, but leaves the rest out). Eddie Vedder the band leader who loves nothing more than to spend an evening drinking and laughing and playing music with his friends, whether it is the musicians on stage or the people in the audience singing along. His humility and gratitude for being able to live the life he has been blessed with as opposed to the man who spent five very years publicly grappling with and disavowing it. There is an expectation that Eddie Vedder, and Pearl Jam, be the same people in 2022 that they were in 1995, almost 30 years ago. Eddie Vedder contains multitudes, while public perception of who he is denies him the gift of contradiction.

Even in his solo work he has largely refused to step too far away from the image of Eddie Vedder. That doesn’t make him inauthentic, as that image is absolutely a part of that larger multitude. Maybe even the most important part. But not the only part. Maybe the nature of those projects denied him the chance to give space to the elements stifled by the ideal of Pearl Jam. Into the Wild (2007) allowed him to play more instruments, but the themes were familiar and the subject matter was defined by the source material (though his choice of obscure covers spoke to the breadth of his musical fandom). Great performances, and they showed some growth as a musician and guitar player. But not surprising. We didn’t learn anything new from them.

Ukulele Songs (2011) could have offered more, given the artistic constraints imposed by the range of the instrument, and its simplicity. But the album felt more like an exercise in songwriting, rather than an exploration. How to write the same kind of songs that might be written on a six string guitar on a four string ukulele. It produced a few gems, but just like Into the Wild sounded exactly like the kind of music Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder would write under those specific circumstances, Ukulele songs still felt like classic Eddie Vedder on ukulele.

Pearl Jam’s masterful 2020 album, Gigaton, was one of their most sonically diverse albums in years. Arguably ever. And one of its most exciting things about Dance of the Clairvoyants, its most exciting song, is the glimpse it offered into the other kind of music Pearl Jam could produce, if they stopped being so concerned about sounding like Pearl Jam and allowed themselves to fully embrace the wider multitude of influences and instincts that have always been bubbling under the surface, artificially constrained.

Recently Eddie has talked a fair bit about the influence of parenthood on his identify as a musician. And perhaps it manifests most clearly around time. Some of this is time as space – the challenge of physically carving out moments to play and create. If you take your family seriously, he argues, the spaces are brief and hurried, and there is a need to work fast and not be too precious about what is created. There’s time for spontaneity, but not editing and reflection. It can give the work almost a demo like quality, and it is hard to escape the sense on some songs he has written over the past 15 years or so that there was room for a second pass to make a composition more subtle or sophisticated, to make a moment more impactful.

But this also manifests itself in lyrical content and performance. The Eddie Vedder we met through his music spent his early years desperately searching for answers and meaning – convinced that they were out there, just out of reach. The yearning was palpable, but so too was the commitment to keep looking, to keep pushing, knowing that if you do so long enough, you’ll find it.

That idea evolved over time, as any idea should, especially one so bound up in one person’s lived experience. And it gradually crystalized around love as our principal source of meaning. Not necessarily romantic love. Familial love. Love for community. Love of music. Love in friendship. And a general love and affection for a world that makes these things possible. Heartbreak and pain finds its origins in the denial of these experiences. The frustration and anger directed towards people, ideas, institutions, and structures of personal and political power that stripped the capacity and opportunity for love from others. The need for self-reflection and safe spaces to allow for people to forgive themselves and others so that they could be ready to both give and receive love.

And so it’s not at all surprising, in retrospect, that upon finding these things Eddie’s writing starts to concern itself with questions of legacy and aftermath. What am I/What are we doing, as an outgoing generation (and at this point in his career Eddie has fully embraced his role as a rock and roll elder statesman, and mentor even if he does so with characteristic humility) to leave a world where the people following don’t have to struggle the way that I did? What do I owe the people who come next? What do I need to do to clear a path for them? Am I the person to guide them?

This shift has influenced his writing in other ways as well, perhaps less subtlety. When one finds themselves at the end of their own journey, confident in who they are, it is easier to abandon pretense, to care less about what people think of you, to posture less and play more. To live in each moment as you want to live in it, since the timeline of your history runs longer than your future. To honor and recognize and celebrate all the parts of yourself that lead to this moment, safe in the realization that you arrived at your destination, liking the person you became along the journey and understanding it was the sum total of all of your experiences that got you there. That makes this an opportune time to begin embracing elements that you might have one shied away from.

And, not surprisingly for someone who spent a career looking for and singing about love, even though he rarely used the word, we should expect to find a bit more saccharine, a bit more schmaltz, making their way into some of the work. And this is not a bad thing, especially when it is earned. The experience of love is a wet, syrupy, warm, sweet, cozy, enveloping feeling – but also much harder to capture. It may be less moving than pain, which for whatever reason it easier to project yourself into – to imagine someone else’s pain rather than their joy. Part of it is that love is based on concrete tangible connections, and loss and pain is defined by an absence – it is easier to settle into a vacant space than a crowded one, easier to make that experience your own and fill it with your own story, rather than adapt the highly specific particulars of someone else’s connections. And as Eddie’s writing more frequently lingers in these loving spaces it poses new challenges on him as an artist to make that space accessible (which is harder to do) and perhaps poses challenges for fans who have historically enjoyed having his company in their own vacant spaces, or a guide on their journey, but are less interested in the destination.

Thanks to COVID, we never got that Gigaton tour, or the solo tours that happened without pretense or obligation to showcase new music. And one presumes Pearl Jam was reluctant to start working on a new album before they had a chance to play the current one. So for the first time in a decade, Eddie leaned into being an artist independent of Pearl Jam, with a level of productivity we haven’t seen since the early years of the band where two years between albums felt like an eternity. In the last 14 months Eddie released the solo EP Matter of Time (December 2020), a second soundtrack Flag Day (August 2021), and his first full fledged solo record Earthling (February 2021). And together they offer us an unprecedented opportunity to explore who Eddie Vedder is outside of Pearl Jam and who he is today when he is answerable to a different set of instincts and obligations, when we are offered a vision of his contradictions and multitudes.

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Review/guided tour of Matter of Time/Flag Day/Earthling
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 Post subject: Re: Review of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 2:44 am 
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Matter of Time

Released in December 2020 to very little fanfare, Matter of Time is technically an EP. However as four of the six songs are covers, and three of those four songs are acoustic covers of existing Pearl Jam material, and two of those three acoustic solo covers are of already acoustic d numbers, it’s easy to see why this didn’t make a huge splash. It is likely a product of that parent creativity trap Eddie had discussed elsewhere – trying to create when and how he can in the brief windows available. It may have also been motivated more by the desire to help rather than a burning need to say something, as the two original songs (Matter of Time and Say Hi) were part of a livestream to raise money to benefit a non-profit group (founded by Eddie and his wife Jill) that does EB (Epidermoysis bullosa) research. It is a rare, sometimes fatal disease that causes skin to take on a paper-thin texture and blister/bleed easily. Human contact is difficult. It’s a great cause, but the final EP ultimately ends up feeling a little incomplete and inessential, though the DNA of something more meaningful is certainly present.

Matter of Time: Matter of Time showcases some simple piano instrumentation to accompany Eddie’s vocal, vaguely reminiscent of REM’s Nightswimming (though Nightswimming is a masterpiece). I believe this is Eddie’s only song written/performed entirely on piano (we have a few unreleased organ solo tracks). The music creates a sense of distance that calls for something to bridge it, and it is appropriate for a song about a disease that makes human contact painful, and sometimes impossible. It’s a condition whose tragedy would absolutely speak to Eddie, and its clear in his performance. Simply reading up on the disease undoubtedly enhances the song.

There are some nice lyrical moments in here especially those that directly references the reality of the disease, and its imposition of physical barriers that can only be torn down emotionally. The title and chorus speak of time, and the hope that eventually there will be a cure. The repetition of a ‘matter of time’ doesn’t quite land with the impact you’d want it to have (which is a performance issue, there isn’t anything striking in the melody or delivery) but there are some great moments in the verses. Knowing that he is singing about a disease that can kill children, lyrics like “when your time is limited nothing happens too soon” hit hard. But the most powerful imagery focuses on hands, and the impossibility of direct physical connections that we take for granted.

“Still times when nothing’s alright as we bandage up all our parts”
“So much space between us in the distance of our hands”
“Shrink the space between us/A reaching of a hand”

It builds into a pretty bridge and layered vocals in the outro that try to create a sense of community, where Eddie looks to embody the earlier claim to “be a builder of bridges.” They don’t quite pay off on the promise. The sadness that drenches the rest of the song doesn’t quite go away, which mutes the emotional impact, and there also isn’t a memorable lyrical sequence to hold onto. The intent is clear, but it still feels like an idea is being worked out, something that does appear in Eddie’s writing on occasion, when he believes something so strongly and passionately that he doesn’t always bridge the distance between what he experiences in his heart and what other people need to know and understand to feel the same way. It’s too bad. This is something Eddie/Pearl Jam have done exceedingly well on other songs (River Cross is a great recent example, an adaptation of a song Eddie wrote for his solo tour) and knowing a bit more about the EB does make the verses a lot more powerful. Ironically, Matter of Time could have really been something moving with just a little more time.

Say Hi: Say Hi is a simple song, just Eddie and an acoustic guitar. It’s simple earwormy melody and lyrics, would be easy to dismiss without further context in another song. Just as knowing a bit about EB helps the Matter of Time verses lyrics sing, Say Hi is written for a 6-year-old boy who has the disease. It turns what felt disposable into an open-hearted gesture that captures the unaffected empathy and warmth that Eddie radiates not only in his best music, but as a person. That underneath the public persona Eddie Vedder is, at base, someone who cannot hope but care deeply about every person he meets – someone who wants to know their story and bring just a little more light into their life than was there before.

What is kind of amazing is that there is nothing even slightly condescending about the performance. He sings with the same commitment he would any other song of this style, and treats Eli with the same generosity he would any of his other heroes. It’s a 56 year old rock star who can effortlessly command a space with 50,000 people genuinely respecting the courage of a small child, and willingly learning from his example.

“Cause the first one to reach out a hand/shows more courage than the one who does last.
With all our imperfections/your light shines in all directions/cutting through.”

I do not know more about this young boy’s illness, or his history. But the world is a slightly brighter place for this gesture. What it must mean to Eli, his family, and anyone else whose children struggle with something awful and undeserved (which is pretty much all child suffering) and take comfort knowing the gesture was made.

The Covers

The rest of the EP consists of simple, unadorned presentations of Just Breathe, Future Days, Growin’ Up (Springsteen), and Porch. Just Eddie with his guitar offering live in-studio performances. They are worth a listen, even if they don’t transform the songs.

It’s nice to hear Just Breathe without the bells and whistles, and Eddie adds some of his typical live changes to the lyrics, as “I don’t want to hurt” becomes “I don’t want YOU to hurt” or “There’s so much in this world to make me bleed” to ‘make us bleed.” It captures the core beauty of the song, even if it isn’t a definitive performance.

Future Days in particular benefits from a stripped-down performance, which showcases the intimacy of the song without some of the elements on Lightning Bolt that edged it into self-parody (though I loved that violin and do miss it). It’s a song to whisper to your loved ones as they drift off to sleep – more promise than lullaby, and that it is more effectively captured here.

Eddie has leaned more heavily into his Springsteen influences in the post-Riot Act years, and it was fun to get a cover of Growin’ Up, but this isn’t new. Early bootleg cds of Eddie’s Bad Radio work had, nestled between the Chili Pepper funk influences that aged terribly, a cover of Springsteen’s One Step Up so faithful you would swear it was Bruce singing.

And while we got the definitive acoustic version of Porch in 1992, and the solo flourishes Eddie adds here are already present in the live full band versions, I’m never going to complain about another rendition of one of their greatest songs. There’s some grasping tension in the music that comes through in the acoustic version that is easy to miss in the storm and stress of the typical performances.

Ultimately the Matter of Time EP can’t be called essential, but there is material here worth the occasional visit, especially knowing more of the context. It’s also very much a record influenced by his fatherhood – both in the paternal care shown to children in the original compositions, and the ‘daddy is going to play some music and it’s going to make it all better’ vibe that colors the performance and writing in subtle but real ways. It exposes the core of much of his modern songwriting sensibilities. How it is dressed up and transformed (if at all) becomes the question.

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Review/guided tour of Matter of Time/Flag Day/Earthling
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 Post subject: Re: Review of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 2:44 am 
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Flag Day

I confess I haven’t actually seen the Flag Day movie, so I cannot talk about the songs in the context of the film, which may be a disservice to the record. But it is, at base, about the complicated relationship between a father and daughter, and the way that the father’s larger than life choices (in this case a counterfeiter/criminal) complicate her life and love for him. It’s not hard to see why Eddie was drawn to the project, in addition to the Sean Penn (who wrote/directed) connection.

It's also a collaborative work between Eddie Vedder, Glen Hansard (regular touring companion of Eddie with an accomplished career in his own right), and Cat Power. This review will focus on the songs Eddie wrote/performed, so it won’t touch on the Cat Power contributions, or the solo Hansard song (which are likely necessary for the overall arc of the record – Cat Power’s songs in particular seem like important parts of the daughter’s journey) . Arguably overshadowing the record, at least initially, is the presence of Eddie’s older daughter Olivia, who sings lead vocals on two of the tracks. In his recent interview with Bruce Springsteen, Eddie revelated that Olivia was brought in to provide some scratch female vocals for two songs that were intended for someone else (one assumes Cat Power, but that’s not confirmed). Penn liked the performance so much he kept her versions. On the surface it could smack of nepotism, but Olivia absolutely earns her place on the record – her two songs are highlights, and her performance is tentative and vulnerable and beautiful in all the right ways. It captures the core complexity of the bond between imperfect father and the daughter who can’t help but love him, and the real-life father/daughter relationship in the performance only enhances the experience.

This is a slow burn record that likely takes a few listens to unlock. It’s unhurried, and there is a subtle distance in the production and performances that add to the sense of disconnect and uncertainty that defines the core character relationships. Sadness, disappointment, and a fear of getting too close and experiencing these things again, but a willingness to keep reaching out because you can’t choose who you are bound to. The songs aren’t showy (with one exception), and at first glance they can even feel perfunctory until you start to understand where the reluctance is coming from. It is not as strong a set of songs as Into the Wild, whose immediacy and awe make them more initially engaging, but this is an album worth sitting with, and the songs create a space Eddie hasn’t really explored in Pearl Jam, at least not at length.

My Father’s Daughter: Written by Eddie and Glen, and sung by Olivia, My Father’s Daughter is Flag Day’s central track, and kicks off the record with its thesis statement. The music is slow, stately, and mournful, but it’s not sad or depressing for the weathered, enduring love underneath it. It’s a warm hug at a funeral, a promise between survivors not to lose each other. The overall composition is more scenic than atmospheric – the dusty small town feel, with its sense of decline, abandonment, and stubborn pride, is palpable.

There is a shaky determination in Olivia’s performance, a willingness to be vulnerable and at risk, without faith in an eventual payoff, because of some foundational, emotional connection that cannot be explained and requires no justification. The melody is lovely, delicate, uncertain, and the lyrics portray what must be an immensely complicated relationship. The opening verse captures how tentative and unreliable, even unknowable, the father is:

“Out beyond the reaches
Rare as a blood moon, you show, then cover up your tracks
And through the thinning branches
I watched your taillights turn
And wondered if you're ever coming back”

And we learn early on this is not a good man, as she sings “Trouble came to find you/shadowed into every word and deed ‘til it got you in its spell.”

But despite it all, there is a quiet inevitability to her loyalty. Lyrics like “they can go to hell” or even “never gonna leave him. Despite the rights or wrongs I got you and I hope that you know” aren’t given any particular emphasis (which isn’t to say they aren’t well delivered – just that they don’t become flashpoint moments in the song). There’s no catharsis – just the presentation of fact. It’s what gives the song, and the idea, its power. There aren’t really choices here. One doesn’t choose their family (at least within the logic of the song). The connection simply is, and defines us by the brute fact of its existence. “I am my father’s daughter, come hell or high water.”

Flag Day: The title track marks Eddie’s first vocal, another logical point of entry. It’s another slow burner, drenched in Americana (even the titular holiday is something you can only imagine getting celebrated in a small rural town). Flag Day is a character study of the father, and it’s not particularly flattering. It captures his transient nature, the self-serving wanderlust, the start-stop nature of his relationship with the daughter, but doesn’t defend or justify it. It just describes. The ambiguity of the songs relationship to the father enhances it and is in line with My Father’s Daughter. It doesn’t lionize or condemn him. He is who he is, and the songs refuse to judge. It can’t. The complexity of the relationship is such that it cannot be fully understood by anyone outside of it. It’s a mature choice and fits well with Eddie’s larger sensibilities. He is at his best as a writer and performer when he focuses on capturing the emotional complexity of a relationship, rather than evaluating it.

The start is a little rough. The lyrics are a little chunky in the beginning, and they trip up the vocal melody, part of an unfortunate recent tradition of excellent songs with sloppy and underwhelming openings (see also Lighting Bolt and Force of Nature). But once we enter the second verse “Lock it up and burn it to the ground, a man must have his reasons’ Flag Day begins to build the momentum and movement (the violin, piano, and bass in particular are doing excellent work coloring in the composition) that is essential to the character and the composition – that despite himself something in his nature compels him to remain unsettled, despite the human cost it may carry. “We’re a long way from where we started and further from any promise made” is a great lyric that embodies the emotional and moral complexity of the situation.
The second verse paints an evocative picture culminating with “he’s got one foot in the fire and another stepping on a train” capturing the image of a self-destructive hustler who cannot help himself despite the pain he causes. The bridge offers the song a powerful climax, doubly felt for the lack of one in My Father’s Daughter. The mantra “one life was never enough” captures both the larger than life perception the daughter (and father) had of him, as well as the need to keep moving and the regret over who is left behind. It doesn’t justify his absence, but it explains it as they both understood it.

Overall, it’s a strong composition and performance, one without obvious roots in the catalog. Whether that is due to the film’s source material, Hansard’s influence, or the fact that it just doesn’t sound like the kind of song Pearl Jam would write, it both stands alone and makes you wish the band (or Eddie) would mine this well a bit further.

Tender Mercies:
Tender Mercies offers a duet between Glen Hansard and Eddie. It’s not entirely clear who the performances are representing. Glen is likely in the role of the daughter. Eddie could be the father, or could be the part of her daughter that is grappling with her own disappointment in him.

Glen begins with a whispered delivery that opens into a brittle, pleading chorus. It’s a moving, gorgeous performance. “It’s taken us so long to learn the world is coming down around us while we wait our turn. Now we’re running out of road and hope, where have you gone.” Eddie’s performance is a bit more knowing and subdued – less of the emotional pain and longing, more hard won and world weary advice – urging the daughter to stay strong and true (to herself, or him, isn’t clear). The chorus ratchets up in intensity, building into an electric bridge and explosive finale, Glen screaming for something to hold onto while Eddie’s background vocals try and ultimately fail to provide that stability. “We’re running out, still plain in doubt, still jumping from the windows of love. Your tender mercies. They weren’t enough.” It’s a dark ending to a powerful song and unpacks and complicates what may have felt like a superficial acceptance of an uncomfortable and unhealthy relationship in the first two songs. It is arguably the album’s highlight, though that can be said of Flag Day and My Father’s Daughter as well.

Rather Be Home: A simple instrumental guitar piece colored in by Eddie’s wordless longing. It’s a gentle, affecting performance that unpacks the inner life of one of the characters (likely the father, since Eddie seems to inhabit that character in the songs. Plus the title offers a bit of clue). He does stretch for a few notes that are generally outside his range these days, and the vocal gets a little scratchy and distorted. I do find it a bit distracting, especially since the rest of it sounds so good, but there is also a case to be made that is a moment of despair intermixed with the constant sadness. It’s a minor song, but it gives the father some depth and texture and make him more sympathetic in the process – all through the alchemy of Eddie’s voice.

There’s a Girl:
Olivia’s second performance is a haunting wish for the home and safety and stability she’s never known, a plea to “take her/them home where they can be with the ones they love.” The music creates a dreamy atmosphere, with a gentle moonlight, rolling percussive quality that matches perfectly onto the lyrics. The song circles around that core idea for the length of its run time. Olivia initially is singing for travelers she spots out at sea, but Eddie (again representing the father) comes in with the second verse, and the lyrics shift to their collective desire, concern (and in his case, guilt) that “the girl out in the big wide world” find her way back “Blinking stars burning bright in the night. Lead them safely home”. It’s a simple song, but everything is well executed, and it is a pleasure to hear Eddie and Olivia sing together, and the way Eddie’s voice captures that quiet parental concern mixed with the reluctant understanding that at a certain point, all you can do is wish for your child’s safety as they make their way into the world without you.

I’ll Be Waiting:
I’ll Be Waiting offers us a glimpse into the father’s interiority. It helps us explore the joy he finds in his wanderlust, along with what he imagines is his promise to his daughter to find a way to be there for her. The music is jaunty in a way the rest of the album isn’t, and it’s a nice change of pace from what is otherwise a record that feels heavy despite its general sparseness. At two and a half minutes it moves with a spring in its step, as the father is not likely to linger too long in any reflective space. The music works, and the performance is mostly charming, but this does feature the weakest lyrics on the record. “I’ll be an ass-beater, honey. I’m gonna work hard night and day” isn’t great. And while “When the blue night blacks above you and your old ghosts come out to play” is a promising start “I’ll be Dan Aykroyd honey, I’m gonna chase those ghouls away” is far too specific a reference (perhaps it is in the film). His voice cracks in a way that is perhaps intended to be charming and endearing but serves to break the spell more than anything else.

But the song recovers and climaxes with Eddie offering a soaring “When you call me I’ll be ready.” It’s in the register in which Eddie can do no wrong, and as the only point on the album where he captures that energy (by design) it makes I’ll Be Waiting event listening in the context of Flag Day, even if overall this is arguably the weakest of Eddie’s songs on the album.

Wave:
Primarily a Glen Hansard number, with Eddie’s backing vocals providing the ballast as Glen coasts along a gentle melody that is simultaneously peaceful and just a little dangerous – not for any immediate threat, but for the promise that it is carrying the person away and “you’re gone before I had a chance to say goodbye.” There’s not a ton to unpack, but it is a great atmospheric piece that fits in well with the overall aesthetic and feel of the album, and is a quiet highlight. I do not know Glen’s music, but Wave and Tender Mercies make it clear that I should.

Drive: It is a straight, unadorned cover of REM’s Drive, one of their many, many, masterpieces. Mileage will vary. I like covers, and if I had millions of dollars I’d hire Eddie to sing REM’s entire catalog, so I welcome its presence, though it’s something of an odd fit with the rest of the album.

It’s a game performance, and although it is faithful cover, there are some slightly subtle differences from the original that reward careful listening, mostly in the performance. REM’s version is a song that tries to understand and empathize with a generation they were expected to help voice, sung at the height of Michael Stipe’s power and influence. Eddie approaches it with his elder statesmen/father hat on. There is almost a scolding, accusatory edge to the performance. If REM’s Drive asks ‘why do we rock and roll?’ Drive warns us to do it while we still can. It is hard to tie into the rest of Flag Day, but I’m glad it’s here.

It is also a nice way to close out a collection of understated but affecting songs (though Cat Power has the final song). Flag Day, as an album, suffers a bit much from too many cooks in the kitchen. There are four lead vocalists across 13 tracks, and while there is thematic coherence across the record, with so many vocalists it can come across a bit like a collection of songs. It works against the overall impact of the album, as the songs work best in conversation with each other. Other than Tender Mercies there’s no flash here. The songs are generally quiet and moody and benefit from being heard as a unit rather than as stand-alone tracks. The sum is greater than its parts, but with too many parts the sum gets just a little bit muddled. A concluding statement (a la Guaranteed on In the Wild) would help. However, a smaller playlist of just the songs that Eddie wrote/played on (the ones reviewed here) actually works quite well and rewards the time invested in getting to know them, especially as that listen clocks in under 30 minutes, rather than the overlong 50 minutes of the full album). Obviously, this reflects a bias towards Eddie, but that’s why I am here, and if you are reading this that’s probably the case for you as well.

_________________
Review/guided tour of Matter of Time/Flag Day/Earthling
He/Him/His


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 Post subject: Re: Review of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 2:45 am 
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Earthling


With Earthling, Eddie Vedder finally released his first true solo album. Not encumbered by the narrative and stylistic restrictions imposed by a soundtrack, or the constraints of writing for a ukulele, we are finally offered an unencumbered glimpse into who Eddie Vedder is, musically, outside of Pearl Jam. Earthling does not carry any of the expectations and burdens of a Pearl Jam record – it can be anything Eddie wants it to be, and its songs won’t immediately be tracked and ranked in the context of a thirty-year history. He is free to follow his instincts and working with producer Andrew Watt (himself a Pearl Jam superfan) the results focus on Eddie’s strengths as a songwriter, lyricist, and performer while enabling him to truly celebrate the eclectic collection of influences that form the true core of his musical identity.

As a result, we get the return of familiar themes, but explored and celebrated in ways we wouldn’t necessarily see on a Pearl Jam record, where every idea is filtered both through the prism of what Pearl Jam should sound like and four other artists with distinct sonic identities who are equal owners of the work, rather than through a collection of talented musicians present there to help Eddie develop his own unique musical vision.

The album is still full of grand sweeping statements, warmth, and empathy. It would have to be – that part of Eddie Vedder is not a Pearl Jam fabrication. It is embedded in his musical DNA. The whole record, from the title of Earthling (the base common denominator that unites us together) to its closing coda, plays like a warm hug from an old friend that just wants to make sure you’re doing okay in difficult times. But despite the need to make statements, there is a casual flow to the album, a willingness to play, to be a little silly (without irony) that is not regularly found on Pearl Jam albums (and frequently feels out of place when it is). It’s odd, as those moments regularly crop up in the solo work of the other members, and the conventional wisdom was that it was Eddie keeping those moments of lightness off the album. But they’re present here, and hopefully the artistic success of Earthling empowers Eddie and the rest of the band to follow in the footsteps of Dance of the Clairvoyants and continue to push the boundaries of what Pearl Jam can and should be.

Probably the best way to achieve this is by making space within Eddie’s writing and performance for the other influences we do not typically see crop up on a Pearl Jam album. Earthling is a very 80s sounding record – not necessarily in its direct musical choices (though some of those influences do appear) as much as it feels very much of a time before grunge and alternative, when rock was able to be whatever you wanted it to be, rather than the aesthetic reaction to that philosophy that informed the glory days of the early and mid-90s and that Pearl Jam, for better or worse, has been tied to ever since.

In many ways, the Eddie Vedder we get on Earthling is the one that most closely approaches the one we see in the live shows – Eddie the performer, swept up in the moment with several (thousand) of his closest friends. Happy to be in a collective space sharing music – any music. Covers are an important part of the live Pearl Jam experience – a way to pay homage to those who paved the way, those whose work influences them now, and a way to introduce new musical voices, perspectives, and vocabulary into a catalog that doesn’t always make space for them. And Earthling sometimes plays like a covers record of original material. But it’s more to a show than the covers - the reinvention of older songs that turn struggle into celebration, private moments into communal experiences, the breathless anticipation for what comes next, knowing that anything COULD happen, and the collapsing of distance between performer and audience that makes simply being in the space an act of solidarity. That’s the philosophy that informs Earthling, that gives it its energy, its good will, and its power. Earthling finally captures in studio everything we have always known about who Eddie is, and that we collectively have been conspiring to keep out for reasons that, in retrospect, none of us can identify. It’s a reinvigorating experience from the opening notes to a coda that caps not only the journey of an album but an entire career, long overdue and most welcome.

Invincible: The Peter Gabriel influenced Invincible is a small miracle of an opener. The junior spaceman quasi-spoken word opening is ridiculous and would in theory be laughed off a Pearl Jam record. There is nothing cool or profound about it, and it has such big goofy dad energy that it should immediately cause an eye roll. But it is a such a huge, cynicism free, well-meaning swing, backed by majestic, transcendent ‘statement’ music that it’s almost impossible not to get carried away by it, an alchemical trick that really has no equivalent in the catalog.

It doesn’t hurt that Eddie sounds as great as he does. He spends almost the entire album signing comfortably in his range, and for Invincible, a sweeping, soaring song, he parks himself right in that magical space where his voice takes on that otherworldly quality that floats towards the horizon and carries the listener with it. There is also a curious mixture of cheese and profundity that meshes so well together it must be making some kind of statement I don’t fully understand. If nothing else, it disarms the listener and makes it very clear that even though this album is going to take you on a journey, and make you feel powerful things, it also wants you to leave your inhibitions behind and embrace the purity of the musical experience (just as the live shows do).

After the opening check in (how is everyone doing tonight? Are you okay? Are you ready for a journey?) we get the transition lines “feeling wider than awake/better crooked than straight” promising something magical, expansive, unexpected before transitioning into the chorus “Invincible, when we love.” It’s a near perfect distillation of everything the musical journey of eleven albums and thirty years have been building towards – the answers we have been searching for since Ten began exploring with no map in hand, no destination in mind, but armed with the conviction that there is something out there worth finding. Over time the catalog taught us that it is better to search together than alone, that the search itself was generative of meaning, that the principal obstacle in our way is so often ourselves, and that we are deserving of the destination. It’s a simple claim, but that simplicity belies a breathtaking truth underneath it. Our individual power and strength, our light and heat come from the connections we draw from each other. And as Eddie reminded Bruce Springsteen, the inverse is true as well. When we separate ourselves from each other, when we are closed off from each other, we are vulnerable, diminished.

Invincible recognizes the fragility of our condition, and the verses don’t shy away from this. Immediately upon sharing his thesis statement we get the foreboding warning “there’s smoke on the horizon and the clouds are looking violent. There’s a future in need of a frame.” And later, in what may be my favorite lyrics on the album “We got the density of our beings, the unbearable weight, the unbearable light, the unbearable weight, lets lift it up.” The juxtaposition of the terrifying obstacles in our way, the equally terrifying power and potential to move beyond them, and the shinning iron core belief that together we can embrace the light and carry the weight.

It's that connection that is at the heart of Invincible's message – that all of our individual potential is only fully realized together, by living our interdependence and connectivity, our past and future, our history and our dreams, our individual consciousness and the world it resides in .

“At the core of the cosmos we are so much more than particles
Sonic to subatomic, you are a whisper and a scream
You are, we are, all part of this everything
You are light, you are principle
When you love, invincible
Our shared light, indivisible”

There is labor ahead of us, but every bit of darkness we create has the potential to be offset by our inner light “the humanity, the calamity, the spilling blood, the gravity…who could ask for more?”

It is a lot to take in, but the music, the performance, the lyrics, make it impossible to do anything but believe. It’s a similar sentiment to what appeared on tracks like Infallible (in an inverted way) or 7 O’Clock – both are more inherently political songs than Invincible -but both of those songs lack the good will, the unencumbered, almost childlike conviction, that it can and will be okay, if we embrace our own collective power. Previous songs have reached for this space and, for fleeting moments, found it. Invincible is the first time Eddie has decided to start within and explore its potential. The result is a glorious celebration that somehow feels simultaneously surprising and inevitable. It’s a hell of a way to start a record.

Power of Right: The album transitions into a heavier, darker song, though its warnings are offset by pianos, handclaps, a fuzzy warmth that softens its more ominous moments, and what is ultimately a hopefully chorus. Power of Right addresses the skeptics who aren’t quite ready to embrace the message of Invincible. The “bright man scared, living in fear.” As is usually the case with Eddie’s writing, his better instincts steer him away from judgement and condemnation, and towards understanding and empathy. The portrait is sympathetic “his intimidation born of his fear, hypnotized, bloodshot eyes and a mind unclear. Fading light that disappeared.” This is someone lost, flailing, lashing out, but capable of being rescued.

And the power of right finds him. It’s not entirely clear what it is, though it is anthropomorphized, feminized, and strong enough to endure his false start and subsequent failures. Embracing the power of our shared humanity is not a linear journey. It requires letting go of what we carry, what we know, what we expect, to make ourselves vulnerable and open to something different. Eddie sings in the bridge “Fuck the past or you’ll fuck your future. No questions asked, for fear the truth hurts.” The truth does hurt, and this is not the journey of a day or a week, nor is it achieved without backsliding and resistance. Our country/world’s ugly and cruel backlash in the face of a long overdue reckoning with the impact of our own past in the service of a more equitable future makes this clear. But the power of right is that it doesn’t go away. It gets back up. It endures. It lives on in the people willing to carry it. And it will still be there when the people who need it are finally ready to receive it.

Long Way: Long Way is a genre exercise in sounding like Tom Petty, and goes so far as to bring in Petty’s organist, the first time he played since Petty’s death. The love and respect Eddie had for Petty is clear, and Long Way plays as tribute rather than pastiche, and fully understands what was magical in his approach. The music is warm, road ready, a companion for a long journey you don’t want to take alone, with an impactful bridge, and comfortable, meandering outro. Eddie slots comfortably into Petty’s style, and for a song about doomed love, it is surprisingly hopeful and uplifting with the harmonies, a soaring transition into the final chorus, cathartic guitars, and the comfort that comes from knowing your singular experience isn’t yours alone –others have been there and gotten through, and so will you.

The issue with Long Way is that for an almost 5 minute song, and on an album with almost universally strong and engaging lyrics, the Long Way chorus “He took the long way on the freeway,” feels slight and thin. Eddie’s delivery works, as he gives it a loving, breathy purr. And it is a very Petty lyric. But the sentiment is repeated over and over and over, and it’s not a strong enough phrasing to justify the attention it gets. Usually Eddie finds a way to introduce subtle shifts in repetitive choruses to change or recontextualize their meaning and impact (as he just did on Invincible and Power of Right, and to particularly powerful effect on The Dark) but that doesn’t happen here.

Fortunately, while this did hurt Long Way’s power as a single, as an early album pallet cleanser (the first two songs are fairly intense, as is the one that follows) it works much better in the context of the energy, and its not hard to imagine Tom Petty looking down and smiling.

Brother the Cloud: Although it’s not immediate clear from the gentle exploratory charge of the music, Brother the Cloud is one of the darker songs on the record. It is a survivor’s reaction to death and loss, desperately missing the person who is gone, and angry at them for what they’ve made him feel. The song doesn’t claim that the anger is legitimate, just that it is real, and this is an important distinction. The human response to tragedy is not always the right one, but we work with and through what we are given, not what we wish had.

The actual subject of the song is never identified by name, but Eddie has been clear that he is writing about a specific person, and some reviews have claimed that this is about his actual brother, to whom he was very close (and whose 2016 death Eddie was processing at the time of Chris Cornell’s suicide). It’s easy to read suicide into the lyrics, though it isn’t necessary. The core of the song is the loss, the belief it was not inevitable, possibly the product of irresponsible or ill-fated choice. The brother could be literal, but it could be anyone close.

The central fact of the loss, and its experience as a perpetual open wound, is the source of the anger underneath the music: the willingness to give up everything to get the person back, to pray so long and so hard your knees bleed, and to feel the loss so acutely that you cannot even escape into dreams, trapped as you are in this awful continuous moment. “These are but dreams/as sad as it seems/I’m always wide awake.” Eddie knows his way around water metaphors, and beautifully captures the sentiment “Enlarge the hole in my heart/rising river in the dark/Erodes the shore ‘til our shores were far part” – the language evokes darkness, flood, rising distance, permanence. The scariest thing about the resentment the singer feels is the fear that it will eventually overpower the love he has for the person – that the pain he is feeling will be redirected back to the departed as an act of self-protection.

And with that the sentiment the song pivots in a harder direction for its final minute, when he indulges in the grief wish fulfillment fantasy of asking the next person to leave him to find his brother in and let him know that he hasn’t forgiven him for leaving. It’s a spiteful moment, and though its clear from the restrained performance that he regrets it he cannot help himself. It would be out of character, except the song focuses on the reality of, rather than the legitimacy of, the feeling. And while the phrasing is a little awkward, he gives the final “what are friends for?” lyric that soaring emphasis that always bumps a song up at least half a star. Given the experiential, rather than justificatory, nature of the lyrics, it manages to come together, and the next two songs on the record will work through alternatives.

Fallout Today: The first of two songs about trying to reach people before it’s too late (preventative measures as there is no way to inoculate yourself against the pain of Brother the Cloud without abandoning the love that caused the pain), Fallout Today offers a casual promise of grace and unconditional support, and the ‘don’t worry about, I got you’ shrug of the music works to lower the volume and stakes (by design) of what is otherwise a fairly seriously set of lyrics.

Fallout Today is addressed to someone struggling, lashing out, and making mistakes (the fallout today), as we all do when we are wounded. It reminds her both that its okay to be in pain, and that the people in your life are there so you don’t need to face it alone (recall the alternative if they don’t from just a song ago). And that the people you love will forgive you your human failings in times of stress and crisis, so you can focus on your own healing.

“Second chances granted one more time
And in the depths of darkness, found the light
And the hope she thought abandoned
Was not lost for her companion, kept it safe”

It’s a powerful reminder, as we’ve all hurt the people trying to help us, and dwelling on our actions keeps us from processing and working through the challenges in front of us. But it goes beyond that – if you reach for them they will not only forgive you, they’ll support you, because that’s what you do for the people you love. They want you to embrace and work through your pain, and want to support you in the journey. “Don't make light of this weight. You'll fortify it's chains.”

And as Eddie often does so well (though not in Long Way), small changes within repeated lyrics expand the scope and meaning of the message, as the earlier chorus lyric “don’t beg for forgiveness/we all need to share and shake the pain” changes into “never beg for forgiveness/it’s a gift to share and shake the pain”. A request turns into a commandment, and a need you have for others becomes a gift you can give to them. It’s a purer, healthier distillation of the ‘what are friends for’ that concluded Brother the Cloud

The Dark: The Dark is maybe the purest (or at least the most successful) distillation of Springsteen’s influence on Eddie as a songwriter. There is a liberating, purifying, transformative energy to the music and performance of The Dark that cannot help but recall both some of Springsteen’s best 70s/80s anthems, and the spirit behind them (that Eddie has always carried and that form the core of the live experience) – that music, played with conviction and shared with those who need it, builds enduring connections, bridges uncrossable divides, and lights the way home.

Like Invincible, The Dark is one of the first time Eddie has written a song almost entirely from that moment of transcendent catharsis. He had been dancing around this idea for a while, with varying degrees of success (Love Boat Captain, The Fixer, Unthought Known, Swallowed Whole, and Lightning Bolt come to mind), but The Dark gets right down to business, the music more propulsive, and the subject matter rightfully focuses on human relationships rather than finding inspiration or the collective healing of hurts. Unlike those other songs, The Dark asks for nothing and offers everything, and achieves something magical as a result.

It doesn’t hurt that Eddie sings the hell out of this song – he keeps almost everything in a comfortable range and is able to focus on making the ‘human connection’ with the listener rather than straining for the notes. The indescribable warmth, compassion, and empathy that marks his best performances is on effortless display, and it makes the juxtaposition with the notes he reaches for at the climax more powerful (and it makes me sad that so many great songs like The Fixer or Force of Nature don’t start from a similar place). It’s a performance gifted with a survivor’s wisdom and the energy and intensity of a new experience. The music is just as powerful – it recalls the effortless sweep of Betterman’s climax, and the triumphant solo would be at home at the end of I Am Mine.

The central metaphor of The Dark is easy to grasp, but no less layered and powerful for it. Darkness embodies both loss and being lost. It keeps secret what needs to be shared (recall the message of Fallout Today). It helps us hide if we don’t want to be found and prevents us from being found when we do. And the person the singer is addressing is lost in the dark.

But The Dark isn’t about that person, at least not directly. It’s about the proactive determination of someone who loves and cares about them to pull them out before its too late (another song in conversation with Brother the Cloud). It’s why the music is so optimistic and hopeful – it’s the light illuminating the darkness, and the love that powers the light.

We get moments of aphoristic wisdom that Eddie’s voice manages to make profound “We all could use some redemption/we all fail in the face of perfection” the promise of grace in difficult times, a familiar message going back at least as far as Present Tense if not further, but rarely delivered with the urgency it is here – a truth felt in the heat of the moment rather than discovered through reflection and stillness. Eddie also offers some evocative imagery describing the metaphorical search to find the missing person

“Walking the moon as if on a leash
Follow my shadow in the sand
Blue light beaming down on me
And the footprints you have left

Your silence covers me
Like heavy water
Fathoms underneath the sea
Midnight, not a cloud in the sky
I should be lost in your eyes”

He is fearful of their silence, missing their company, tracing footsteps, underneath the moonlight of a cloudless night trying to reach them. But when we have moonlight, when we have “these nights with the sky still full of stars” it’s easy to see. The core promise of the song is to be there for them when its hard, to keeping searching even when the stars are absent, to find them in the dark.

The final lyrical trick is the subtle shift at the end with the shift from the commitment to “find you in the dark” to the invitation to “come find me in the dark”. The reminder that you aren’t alone, and the restoration of power and agency in times of loss, grief, trauma, and pain. That you don’t have to wait to be saved – that if you reach out in the darkness someone will be there to take your hand. And the promise that in reaching out we find each other (we’re invincible when we love) comes together in the final fusion of “I’ll find you in the dark. Come find me in the dark.” Shared invitation, shared obligation, shared salvation.

Awesome song.

The Haves:
Any song would have a hard time following The Dark, and it might be necessarily for The Haves, surprisingly the only ballad on the record, to slow down its pace. Although, like Long Way, it works better in the context of the album than as a single, it is the closest thing on Earthling to a misfire.
Eddie’s more recent saccharine influences are fully on display. The music is a bit plinky and overwrought, which you can get away with if the performance either goes for broke (it doesn’t. It’s resolutely nice until the very end, where Eddie elevates the performance in a way that feels out of synch with the music – when he lifts off in a song like Come Back the music crescendos with him), has some striking phrases (it doesn’t), or the lyrics are telling a compelling story (it’s complicated).
According to Eddie, The Haves is inspired by seeing a homeless couple emerge from a tent in an encampment and despite the hardship and tragedy around them, embrace and ready themselves to face the day together. It’s a lovely sentiment, and fits in perfectly in the context of the record. But there is a non-specificity to the lyrics that fail to recreate the scene. And it’s clear what he is going with the Have/Have Not framing in the context of the song, but that’s such a politically loaded phrase that it is simultaneously jarring and a little trite. The best moment is maybe “the ceiling’s so high/when you’re down on the floor” but even that feels a bit easy. And the lyrics seem to move between the legitimate needs and hardships the couple face and the message that if they have love they’ll be okay, and the overall point gets muddled.

Again, a lovely sentiment overall, and not a bad vocal performance, but the music is so stereotypically on brand for this kind of song it needs either an edge to the vocals or lyrics that are particularly evocative or insightful, and it lacks both. It is forgivable in the context of the album, where a bit of a breather is in order before moving into its frenetic second half. Eddie has written other, better versions of this song, but the perfect version is still out there waiting for him.

Good and Evil: Good and Evil opens with a few vaguely eastern mystical notes before transitioning into the closest Eddie has ever come to writing a Nirvana song. Its angry and pulsating, but as with Power of Right, the fuzz on the guitars softens the edges, and it’s just a bit too melodic to be ferocious. It also has one of the more ear-wormy choruses on the record, and when Eddie returns to his punk influences in Pearl Jam I’d love to see him spend some time here rather than the poppier elements he tends to lean on.

Good and Evil is maybe the most strained vocal on the record, but Eddie still sounds good, keeps up with the frantic pace of the music (which is great), and the chorus has such a winning melody that it all works well, at least until the outro where the song flies off the rails and the song gets a bit away from him. Excellent backing harmonies on the bridge as well, with echoes of Do the Evolution (which is thematically not too far away, though DTE is grappling with more complex ideas).

It’s also the most mean-spirited song on the record, and it’s not surprising that a song called Good and Evil would have such a black and white view of the world. It’s accusatory, nasty, and it’s hard with lyrics like “look at you dressed up as hunters like some fucked-up Halloween” to not think it’s at least not partially inspired by the Trump family, though the generalized target may be bigger. Whoever it is finds themselves trapped in a solipsistic world where they are blind to their own cruelty and its consequences.

“You talked yourself, you talked yourself
You're living a lie, you
Talked yourself, you talked yourself
You self hypnotized, you
Love your wealth, you steal yourself
And dare criticize, you
Get some sleep, I hope you dream
Your own death tonight”

A really aggressive conclusion to that chorus. You could read it through a Christmas Carol lens where the experience shocks you into empathy. But the song is skeptical.
“And I wake up with forgiveness
Every day in my heart
But for you I have not got any, dear
Oh, you felt just fine
Looking the elephant in the eye
You pulled the trigger, fucking sick
I wonder why?”

Yeah, this has to be about the Trump family, right? And in a fairly rare moment for him, he doubles down not only on their hopelessness, but the satisfaction (and justice?) to be found in their prospective suffering: “I wish you well/I wish you Hell…I wish you dead/and witness your Karma.” Maybe the most pointedly nasty lyrics in Eddie’s entire catalog. The details are just vague enough, and the music playful enough, to sand down the roughest edges, but it’s definitely an out of character song.

Rose of Jericho: The Rose of Jericho is a plant associated with healing, renewal and resurrection in many religious faiths. They can survive for up to seven years without water and lose up to 95% of their moisture without long term damage (thanks Google). And so it serves as an appropriate central image for a song about condemning our environmental degradation. No matter our predation:

“Forests fall by hands of man, like dominos”
“The smell of asphalt makes it hard to swallow”

Nature will endure. Rose of Jericho isn’t structured as a hopeful song per se, at least not for us, but it does lean into the power, hope, and promise of the idea the world will find a way to heal as soon as we write ourselves off the stage (and, appropriately for a hopeful record, allows that we might ‘heed the voice of the rose’ before it’s too late) .

The growling driving energy, the edge in the vocal (a cleaner performance than Good and Evil but it hits no less hard), and a genuinely catchy chorus strike the right balance between anger and empowerment (and through the combination of the two a warning). It is just requires a moment of transition to realize that we are the villains in the song. Rose of Jericho is arguably the song on Earthling that would have been the most at home on Gigaton. It’s closer musically to Take the Long Way, but a swap with Never Destination would have also worked. But it’s a challenging song to place either way. Both Gigaton and Earthling are, at their core, optimistic records (Earthling more so), and that optimism is hard to maintain in the face of the environmental degradation we continue to embrace despite knowing the costs. Still, the records need to embrace and acknowledge moments like this so the moments of light don’t feel pollyannaish.

In a weird way Earthling proper ends with Rose of Jericho. The final four songs are all defined by their relationships to their guest stars, rather than the larger themes of the record (though they don’t contradict them either). And they are fascinating peeks into the complexity of Eddie’s musical identify, and a tantalizing glimpse into directions Pearl Jam could take if they allowed themselves to take the risk.

Try: Stevie Wonder on the harmonica. Fucking hell does he play the hell out of it. This song is just a volcanic blast of energy, and everyone is on fire. Pearl Jam has been dropping a late album barnstormer track into the second half of each album since S/T (Big Wave, Supersonic, Let the Records Play, Never Destination) and this is the song they’ve been reaching for that entire time.

There’s not a ton to unpack here. Despite the frantic pace, Eddie somehow found a vocal melody anyone could keep up with that’s a ton of fun to sing, and the harmonies at the end are a blast. I also love the moment after the first extended harmonica solo when everything drops out but Eddie’s vocals and the drums, and you realize that you wouldn’t mind a song that was just the two of them, before everyone else kicks back in and you realize you were a fool for thinking that. But still, it’s a testament to the strength of the vocal melody and the performance that it got that close.

I love the old married couple energy to this song, the lived-in feel to the relationship, the recognition that people will get on each other’s nerves and not understand why but put up with it and find a way to muddle through because relationships take work. Remarkably there’s no resentment, just a bemused acceptance that it’s necessary and a commitment to putting in the labor because the reward is worth it. And “bound by ambition/burned beneath the light” is a nice update to the “bandaged hand in hand” lyric from Hail Hail (and I imagine Try as checking up on that couple 25 years later).

Wisely the song does pause to remind the listener what’s at stake and why we put up with each other through the frustration and unearned guilt – and significantly it’s the moment when the music drops out so we can focus on the lyrics.

“Lifted with the elements, earth, sea, and sky
Hidden like the witness in your eyes
Our life is a canyon, live it deep and wide
I will try, try, baby I will try”

That’s some minorly magical phrasing that turns love into an unknowable force of nature that we can only embrace because we can never fully understand, and links Try to the core moments on Earthling.

Another incredible song. It may not have the emotional sweep of Invincible or The Dark but it’s not what I expected from a 57 year old Eddie Vedder supported by a 70 year old Stevie Wonder, and I’m so grateful it’s now in my life.

Picture: And following up Stevie Wonder we have Sir Elton John (a truly left field addition since there’s never been any prior Elton John connection in anything I can recall hearing or seeing from Eddie – although someone as in love with music history as Eddie is would of course love Elton John).

Musically this song is a blast. Even more so than Try everyone takes a back seat to let Elton John do his thing. And he’s even older than Stevie Wonder at 74, but can still play the shit out of the piano, which drives the best parts of the song. The highlight is undoubtedly the outro playing, which, as others have pointed out, borrows some of the phrasing of the Alive solo and is, not surprisingly, a joy to listen to.

Eddie largely gets out of the way and lets Elton drive the vocals, despite a fairly even sharing of lyrics. It’s clear Eddie is just happy to be there getting sing with another one his heroes.

Thematically it fits in with the dominant themes of Earthling – drawing strength in dark times from the love we have for each other. The central image of the picture freezes that moment of love and hope in time, so that as our lives continue in their broken and imperfect ways we can draw strength from that memory and carry it into the present, whether it is ensuring we don’t let “the darkness of these times break us” or heal the hurts when “I cause the sadness in your eyes.”


Mrs. Mills:
And here is Ringo Starr on drums playing on a song about the piano in Abbey Road. There are echoes of All Those Yesterdays in the performance, which had previously held title of the most Beatles sounding song in the Pearl Jam/Pearl Jam adjacent catalog, until Eddie wrote a song with an actual Beatle.

It’s a stunning song, and another example of how effortlessly Eddie can slot himself into other people’s work, as much a genre exercise in The Beatles as Long Way is for Tom Petty, orchestration and all. It’s literally a love song to the Abbey Road piano affectionately named Mrs. Mills after the woman who left it there. It is framed underneath a larger story where the piano is anthropomorphized into a woman who seduces artist after artist with “the ivory that is her flesh and bone,” giving them that one transcendent moment before she forces them to move on.

There’s a curiously empowering feminism to the song as well. Eddie gives a plaintive, wistful vocal, and there is vaguely unrequired sadness in the performance and music. “No one takes a Mrs. Mills home” initially reads like she is used and abandoned until we get to the key pivot line: “No one’s born to feel like they are owned” at which point it becomes clear that the singer is lamenting his own loneliness, his own desire to possess that which he cannot own, and that the power in the relationship belong with Mrs. Mills, her gifts her to dispense and withhold as she sees fit, a celebration of her autonomy.

On My Way: Despite having just worked through Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Ringo Starr, On My Way has the most surprising and impactful guest star on the album. Eddie not knowing his biological father is about as foundational a piece of Pearl Jam lore as there is, and the longing to know him, to speak with him, is at the core of so many of Pearl Jam’s greatest moments. And so, it’s hard to imagine the impact it had on Eddie where, through an improbable series of events, someone got Eddie a copy of his father’s singing. Eddie carried the recordings with him for a long time before he worked up the courage to listen to them, to finally hear his father speak. And it was even more powerful to learn that he was good, and that Eddie’s talent came from him, and that he had nurtured that shared love for music into something that his father would have been proud of.

It's also hard to appreciate what it might mean for Eddie to share something so private and personal, but it makes sense that if he were going to do so, it would be to close out an album about the elemental primacy of love and the importance of human connection.

What could have felt like a gimmick works as an incredibly effective album coda. It plays like an end credits suite, the repetition of his father singing “I’ll be on my way” while Eddie reprises some of the Earthling’s lyrics in the closest thing they will ever have to a duet. These aren’t necessarily the most important lyrics in wider scope of the album, but they all make sense in the context of this moment. The song is only about two minutes longer, but any longer would have run the risk of overstaying its welcome. It’s hard to imagine a better end a record about the enduring magic and power of human connection than with Eddie telling his lost, now found father “When we love, we’re invincible.”

_________________
Review/guided tour of Matter of Time/Flag Day/Earthling
He/Him/His


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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 3:07 am 
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Thanks Stip!
Looking forward to reading these...


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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 3:08 am 
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I totes thought Mrs. Mills was about a prostitute.

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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 3:17 am 
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Bammer wrote:
I totes thought Mrs. Mills was about a prostitute.

i initially did as well, or something similar

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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 6:04 am 
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Look forward to reading this later - thanks!

Bammer wrote:
I totes thought Mrs. Mills was about a prostitute.


Haha yep!


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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 7:38 am 
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Nicely written. Well done.


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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 2:56 pm 
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stip wrote:
Bammer wrote:
I totes thought Mrs. Mills was about a prostitute.

i initially did as well, or something similar

I mean … “what the men do down below” … so the Beatles did not allow women near their recording process.

Also it was a white prostitute in my mind because ivory (skin, presumably) flesh and bone.

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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 4:16 pm 
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I’ll give this a solid read later because your write ups are great.

However, I did skim it and noticed that you didn’t like the ghostbuster line in I’ll be Waiting. That’s funny because it’s one of my favourite parts of the record. I think the line is half clever and the delivery is super catchy. Definitely a highlight for me.


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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 4:53 pm 
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I get the appeal of it, but it feels slightly off to me. I wonder if it is a movie reference (Flag Day, not Ghostbusters, obviously)

And thank you :)

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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 5:05 pm 
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Bammer wrote:
stip wrote:
Bammer wrote:
I totes thought Mrs. Mills was about a prostitute.

i initially did as well, or something similar

I mean … “what the men do down below” … so the Beatles did not allow women near their recording process.

Also it was a white prostitute in my mind because ivory (skin, presumably) flesh and bone.


I think the piano was/is in the basement or below ground level?


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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 5:07 pm 
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Also, great write ups and the contextualization of Earthling is spot on and puts everything together cohesively in a way you otherwise just feel. Thanks for this.


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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 5:19 pm 
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liebzz wrote:
Bammer wrote:
stip wrote:
Bammer wrote:
I totes thought Mrs. Mills was about a prostitute.

i initially did as well, or something similar

I mean … “what the men do down below” … so the Beatles did not allow women near their recording process.

Also it was a white prostitute in my mind because ivory (skin, presumably) flesh and bone.


I think the piano was/is in the basement or below ground level?

Yes

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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 5:35 pm 
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liebzz wrote:
Also, great write ups and the contextualization of Earthling is spot on and puts everything together cohesively in a way you otherwise just feel. Thanks for this.

thanks. Have you revisited your ranking of Earthling in your mega thread? Or too soon?

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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 6:34 pm 
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Stip, I can’t read this whole thing. Maybe you already addressed this. Anyway, question:

Your thoughts on known atheist Eddie Vedder writing lyrics such as “we need what’s above” and also lines about kneeling and praying on this new record?

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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 7:41 pm 
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stip wrote:
liebzz wrote:
Also, great write ups and the contextualization of Earthling is spot on and puts everything together cohesively in a way you otherwise just feel. Thanks for this.

thanks. Have you revisited your ranking of Earthling in your mega thread? Or too soon?

Not ready for that yet. It does sound better every time.


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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Sun February 20, 2022 7:56 pm 
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Bammer wrote:
Stip, I can’t read this whole thing. Maybe you already addressed this. Anyway, question:

Your thoughts on known atheist Eddie Vedder writing lyrics such as “we need what’s above” and also lines about kneeling and praying on this new record?


well the haves is explicitly non-autibiographical, so he could just imagine that couple as havint faith. I dont have the lyrics in front of me but its also probably possible to read that line from a status/class/caste perspective. We are at the very bottom and struggle for basic needs, stability, etc. Or metaphorically just for everything that is out of reach

Religious imagery in general is powerful even if you don’t actually have the faith - it is part of a common symbolic vocabulary. We know that getting on your knees to pray signifies desperation and a recognition that whatever you are praying for is beyond your power to achieve. And thats a universal feeling, as is the desire to wish that someone can come along and solve your problems.

and of course in BtC the prayer isnt answered, which adds to his frustration and bitterness. Its also a song where, narratively he is talking about an afterlife, but probably not literally. its just a frame for processing grief. I certainly wouldnt read anything religious (pro or con) into Brother the Cloud

really if a religious statement was going to show up anywhere it would be on invincible and he goes out of his way to embrace a spiritual ‘we are all cosmic dust but there is room for mystery anyway’ perspective

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 Post subject: Re: Review/Guided Tour of Eddie's last 3 solo albums
PostPosted: Mon February 21, 2022 5:14 pm 
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Bammer wrote:
Stip, I can’t read this whole thing. Maybe you already addressed this. Anyway, question:

Your thoughts on known atheist Eddie Vedder writing lyrics such as “we need what’s above” and also lines about kneeling and praying on this new record?

has he ever said he's an atheist? i feel like he called 'release' a 'prayer' at one point.


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