“If I keep holding out will the light shine through?
Under this broken roof it’s only rain that I feel.
I’ve been wishin’ out the days…come back”
Pearl Jam were not the band poised to survive the grunge movement of the early 1990’s. They were popular and their album “Ten” did emerge as one of the best selling releases of the time, but they strayed from the path layed by many of their contemporaries. Nirvana owed a very obvious debt to groups like The Replacements and Husker Du, while R.E.M. passed their torch to many of the Britpop groups to emerge, most notably Oasis. Pearl Jam, while also a part of this revolution, incorporated many more influences…from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar playing to the songwriting of Bruce Springsteen and the showmanship of Aerosmith. Diverse to be sure, but always rooted in authenticity.
With a string of hit albums through the 1990’s on Epic Records, Pearl Jam was always on the cutting edge of the music industry. From their objections to Ticketmaster’s monopoly on the ticket industry to their release of all concerts on CD to combat bootleg CD prices, they were always defending the music fan and consumer. Unlike Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, who rallied against Napster at the beginning of the digital music revolution, you knew they were not only interested in their bottom line, but that of the common man. Frontman and lyricist Eddie Vedder has strived to bring these ideals into Pearl Jam’s music from the beginning. Songs like ‘Jeremy’ and ‘Daughter’, while becoming massive singles, have also carried messages to highlight the problems of those without a voice. Much like Bob Dylan’s early 1960’s material, Eddie always succeeds in melding the political and social conscience into a listenable musical statement. Much of this is due to guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, along with bassist Jeff Ament. They each have different musical backgrounds to draw from in an effort to support the almost overpowering vocal chops of their leader.
By 2006, Pearl Jam had taken an extended break from touring and recording. Having spent fifteen years on Epic Records, the band could now take a cue from artists like Prince and record and release their own albums. This is done in an effort to keep a band owning their own master tapes, while securing distribution rights from a major label. Their return to form was the self titled “Pearl Jam”, distributed by the then-new Clive Davis imprint J Records. The album was one of their biggest selling in several years, going gold on the back of the song ‘World Wide Suicide’. This song, along with many others on the album, tooks swipes at the policies of the Bush administration. ‘Come Back’, the song featured here, is a song devoid of agenda and focuses inward on true heartache in an emotional sense. An excursion into blues/soul, the song was written by Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready. McCready is a true blues virtuoso, bringing his Buddy Guy-esque chops to this song, allowing Vedder to stretch out vocally. The song is a true meditation on loneliness and feelings of loss, punctuated by an emotional Vedder giving one of his best performances on record.
In 2009, Pearl Jam released a new album, “Backspacer”, on their own Monkeywrench Records. The group is again taking a controversial step to try and make their fans a priority. With the release, they are giving away free concert downloads with each purchase. The single ‘The Fixer’ is one of the best rock singles in years and they show no sign of slowing down. While other groups from the 1990’s fall to the wayside, Pearl Jam seem to be going the way of The Rolling Stones…a great band, with a huge back catalog still capable of putting on memorable live shows. Here is to another 20 years.