Review by LarryG|
2 stars out of 4
Binaural is Pearl Jam's worst studio album so far. Pearl Jam's
sound has been evolving from the fairly basic arena rock of their
debut Ten CD to more subtle, nuanced music. However, on Binaural they
seem stuck. The music lacks the energy of their earlier work and
hasn't added anything new. Binaural isn't awful. It's got a number of
good songs. But a lot of the songs seem like rehashes of their earlier
work. Binaural is also fairly cold. It's dominated by sad, personal
tales, often about people unable to control their lives, and the music
doesn't often invite you to explore Eddie Vedder's musings.
Pearl Jam's a good band. The rockers on Binaural are well played
and a few of them are quite good, even if they feel familiar.
Grievance is a vital rocker in the mode of Vs.' Rearviewmirror. It's
one of the few times on Binaural that Vedder and the band seem fully
engaged. It's a fairly nonspecific protest song but it's got good
driving guitars and Matt Cameron drums and some good images like
"don't give blood and take it back again." Jeff Ament's Gods' Dice,
about being controlled by a higher power, is pretty basic but makes
good use of the band's ability to make big, powerful music for an
energizing straight ahead song like No Code's Hail Hail.
Insignificance is fairly routine hard rock, but it has good, angry
lyrics. Presumably referring partly to U.S. bombing in Iraq and
Kosovo, Vedder sings about "ten thousand fools who fight irrelevance"
and "bombs dropping down, please forgive our hometown in our
insignificance." The other rockers are not very exciting or much fun.
Vedder's writing is pretty routine. On Evacuation, things are getting
so bad that it's time to flee. Evacuation is an O.K. rocker with a
sledge hammer guitar riff but it never really goes anywhere.
Breakerfall is a hard rocker. It's like Vs.' Animal with a little Who
Are You thrown in. It has a decent riff but not much nuance.
Breakerfall is mostly Vedder's rant. He acts like he's saying
something very meaningful but the entire content of the lyric is, a
girl's romantic problems makes her hate the world and only love can
make things better.
Light Years is probably the best song on Binaural. It's the kind
of song the band does best, a subdued rocker like Better Man. Vedder's
vocal is reflective but strong and the band, while showing a light
touch, keeps Vedder focused as he tries to make sense of a friend's
death. Nothing As It Seems lacks that focus. The story of a man
looking for a feeling of home is pretty good but the spacy music, with
meandering, showy guitar work, sounds like bad Pink Floyd. Thin Air is
a nice unembellished, if slight, song about the mystery of love. But
Parting Ways, Sleight of Hand and Of the Girl are indistinct. The
slow, eccentric Rival, about some sort of militia ready to "release
this unspeakable toll" would be more welcome on a more energetic
record. Soon Forget, a lesson that love is more important than money,
is mostly interesting as Vedder's tribute to one of his heroes, Pete
Townshend. With only his voice and ukelele, Soon Forget closely
resembles The Who By Numbers' Blue Red and Grey.
Pearl Jam can make music that rocks, that is beautiful or that has
a compelling intensity. All those talents are largely lacking from
Binaural. It's a fairly solid but unexciting record. Pearl Jam
popularity continues to decline. Their only recent hit was their cover
of the cheesy but irresistably simple Last Kiss. They've gotten more
attention by releasing a series of live recordings than for their
studio records. The murkiness and retreads on Binaural justify
continuing decreased interest in their new work.