Wednesday, May 05, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘Yield,’ Pearl Jam (1998)

There is no conversation about best Pearl Jam songs that doesn’t include “Given to Fly.” From the purity of that opening guitar line (no, I don’t think it sounds like “Going to California”) to the final soaring chorus, this is Pearl Jam. This is who they are, what they are, and why I love them. Everyone shines, but especially Eddie Vedder—one of his career highlights as both a lyricist and a singer. He conveys so much here, even in the simplest non-verbal phrases of “oh … oh.”

“Given to Fly” is one of three tracks on “Yield” that make this one of Pearl Jam’s best albums all by themselves. The other two are wildly different from one another except for they’re written by Stone Gossard. “Do the Evolution” is a “Vitalogy” throwback: a nasty, dirty song where Eddie spits, screams, and howls more than sings. Its swinging riff and beat is the closest Pearl Jam’s ever come to a dance track (Ed did as much onstage back when this song was fresh); it’s an oddball concoction that shouldn’t work but so does because the band treats it seriously, rather than as a joke.

“In Hiding,” meanwhile, is a cousin to “Given to Fly” in its structure, tempo, and general feel. Gossard’s lead riff is as unmistakable as any of his best songs, and Vedder once again makes magic with a melody that fits his iconic voice like a glove (“Yield” may just be his best vocal album, as a whole). Like several PJ tracks before it, “In Hiding” is so good rock radio stations started playing it even though the band never released it as an official single.

With those pillars in place, Pearl Jam just had to go about filling in the gaps, and so they did with a collection of perfectly complementary tracks. “Yield” is so well paced it’s a joy to listen to straight through, ebbing and flowing in all the right spots. Overall it’s one of their more mellow affairs, but don’t tell that to opening rocker “Brain of J.” There are crunchy parts (“No Way,” “Pilate”), tender moments (“Wishlist,” “Lowlight”), and weird-but-not-too-weird tracks (“Push Me, Pull Me” and “Untitled”). “Faithfull” is strangely constructed but somehow still works, while “MFC” has always sounded to me like the gently rolling hills on the cover photo.

“Yield” is a beautiful album, something that can’t be said about any of the band’s other records; one full of rich, warm tones that pull you in rather than pummel you. It is the soundtrack to a good portion of my life and means so much to me that this is by far the most difficult Pearl Jam review I’ve ever written.

So I’ll leave it simply at this:

“Yield” is my favorite Pearl Jam CD.

Grade: A

Favorite Track: “Given to Fly”

Other Favorite Track: “Do the Evolution”

Other Other Favorite Track: “In Hiding”

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