I am a huge Pearl Jam fan. I’ve seen them live ten times. I own a number of live bootlegs that I will potentially never listen to (“For completion!” I insist). Some of the most important songs in my life are the fault of Eddie & Co. Nevertheless, while I could turn the site from “The Daily Soundtrack” to “The Weekly Pearl Jam Song” singlehandedly, it has been my intent since the planning stages to spread things out. No one wants to go to a site that only ever talks about one band.
Pearl Jam, of course, had other ideas.
In releasing their new single, “Mind Your Manners,” I felt that it would be best to get Matt Jackson: and Matt Belair, founding members and fans both, to give their opinions along with me. Through the magic of webchat, here are the results.
Belair: I love that the ad for the song is for the new album. That’s some targeted advertising.
Alex: The intro riff had me just a titch worried. Once the song starts up, it’s classic opening-track material. “Brain of J,” “Go,” “Life Wasted,” etc.
Jackson: I’m immediately struck by the album art. This doesn’t feel like Pearl Jam. Very punky.
Belair: My first two thoughts were how raw the recording sounded on the intro. And I couldn’t decide if this is the most urgent I’ve heard PJ in some time, or if they sounded like a band trying to sound urgent.
Jackson: I enjoy when the guitar drops out and Eddie yells a bit. Definitely urgent sounding. Unusual Mike [McCready] solo, too.
Belair: The solo makes me feel pretty good. It’s just noisy enough that I feel like they are trying for new things.
Alex: Yeah, the song both totally fits the catalog and yet is different.
Jackson: I like that they even managed to work a solo into a punk song—that might be the most adventurous thing about it. I think I liked this sound for them but I can’t see a whole album in this vein.
Alex: I doubt the whole album will be in this vein, just because I don’t remember the last time any PJ album was in one vein.
Jackson: Good Point.
Alex: It’s a lot more classic than Backspacer sounded, tho.
Belair: I never listened to the entirety of Backspacer.
Jackson: I totally missed it.
Alex: It took me a while to get into. But I like it more than “Avocado” or Riot Act, if I had to judge.
Jackson: Actually, I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t keep up at all after Riot Act.
Alex: Riot Act was a mixed bag.
Belair: My assumption based on what I heard about it is that I would like it more than “Avocado,” but that I probably wouldn’t like it more than anything else.
Alex: And, well, so was “Avocado.”
Jackson: I’d say Riot Act had a fairly consistent sound though—maybe to a fault—loveboat captain notwithstanding
Belair: You like Backspacer more than Riot Act?
Alex: It’s more cohesive, yes.
Belair: I’m in no place to judge on Backspacer, but I suddenly feel like I probably enjoy Riot Act the most out of the three of us.
Alex: Riot Act has some of my fave songs. “Cropduster,” for example. and “LBC,” obv. But it also has a lot of “Help Help” and “Green Disease.”
Jackson: Can I just point out that I love that we are deep and exclusively into late period PJ right now.
Alex: I mean, “Alive,” “Jeremy,” “Even Flow.”
Belair: [Bill] Simmons, in a totally unrelated rant once, made a throwaway comment about how PJ screwed up by makings album like Binaural, and I almost stopped reading him right then and there.
Jackson: lol @ Simmons. Though, I guess technically i gave up after Riot Act. I picked up Lost Dogs but I was such a dork that I had actually already heard all of those tracks.
Belair: I gave up after “Avocado,” but that’s technically only one album, so I guess there is hope for me yet.
Alex: Does anyone feel like “Mind Your Manners” was written to be a single? Or that it just sort of became one by default?
Jackson: I find the whole package really interesting. Definitely a single I would say. Let’s not forget the Backspacer-Target promo.
Alex: Can we please? Because I did. Until now.
Belair: I was just going to say I almost can’t picture PJ writing a song to be a single, and then you reminded me of that.
Jackson: Have they given up on the political stuff? I know it’s there more overtly in the music, but this is definitely a marketing push.
Alex: I don’t think they gave up on it. “Avocado” had it in there. It’s less strong on Backspacer, but that was a politically happier time. I think Backspacer probably fits in weird because we have a band VERY tired of the fight, wanting to make more fun music.
Belair: If PJ fans really cared about the band, they would always be voting for a Bush.
Alex: Don’t bring Gavin Rossdale into this.
Jackson: Don’t let the days go by!
Alex: Anyway…Whatever else is true about the political content, the graphic associated with the single is subtle like an elephant.
Jackson: Is that a bad thing?
Alex: Not at all.
Jackson: It’s a little too American-Idioty for me.
Belair: It’s clear to me Eddie has shot Jesus and eaten him for dinner.
Alex: Could be American Idioty. Could be Jesus for Dinnery.
Jackson: So is the suggestion that we’re somehow force fed guns and religion? Or, violence more generically?
Alex: That’s as good an assumption as any.
Belair: I would say the violence and religion are definitely tied.
Alex: Yeah, the statement is all one statement.
Belair: Just listened to it again, and I’m leaning harder towards them actually being urgent rather than just sounding that way.
Jackson: I feel like I need to hear the lyrics again.
Alex: “I feel I don’t believe and now the truth is coming out.” That solo is pretty out there for PJ. It’s almost Morello-esque [from Rage Against the Machine].
Belair: I wish I didn’t have to put it this way, but it definitely has a metal vibe to it.
Alex: That fits both the rawness of the song itself as well as the topic matter. Metal has been doing the religion questioning thing since before Dawkins defined memetics.
Jackson: Al, I picked up on that line too. Is that the most directly confessional AND negative that Eddie’s been lyrically? A song like “Parting Ways” is as personal but this feels somehow different to me. I hear more of an early hardcore thing going on—it sounds like a Minor Threat riff to me a bit, except that there was a producer and nice equipment in the room.
Alex: This is the most personal I think he’s been in an angry way since “Alive,” but I wouldn’t put money on that.
Jackson: “Lukin” has, I’d say, more anger, but it’s raw. Not direct at all though.
Alex: True. “Lukin” is also super personal
Belair: So if this is an urgent song, musically speaking, and the Eddie is as open and angry as he’s been in quite some time, does anyone else think that a phrase like “Mind Your Manners” and all the childhood associated with it somewhat undermines all of that?
Alex: Depends on if he’s saying it to us, or using it as something being said by the people he seems to be critiquing. I haven’t picked up all the lyrics to be sure.
Jackson: It seems like he might be shifting voice mid song, or for the chorus.
Alex: I can buy that.
Jackson: I feel like the political message is a little lost for me. I’m worn down by the last few years. Not really a criticism of them at all, but it just seems like there’s enough anger all around all the time that it’s tough to cut through. I can’t see a teenager really liking this song.
Alex: Honestly, I’m all for that. I’ve seen what teenagers like.
Jackson: Not a criticism. Imagine what they would sound like competing for that audience. I’d bet on a Skrillex collab.
Belair: So, does this make them Dad-Hard-Rock?
Jackson: It feels like it to me.
Alex: They’re in their 40s.
Belair: For the record, I find it kind of hilarious that every time someone refers to a band as making “dad-rock” it’s usually meant to be a criticism, but I always end up thinking that it’s probably right up my alley.
Jackson: Wilco is dad rock…makes me sad. I actually feel very similarly about Wilco and PJ these days.
Alex: It’s not dad-rock like “adult contemporary.” It’s simply, “this is rock and roll for people who are able to have mature, older thoughts.” It’s an aged cheese compared to a Kraft Single.
Belair: I’m not sure any band is more associated with the 90′s than PJ, which is why they feel older.
Jackson: Most bands never make half as many albums as either. Is that just a natural thing that happens as bands age? Can we name any bands that prove the opposite?
Alex: Opposite is hard, but Metallica proved the rule doubly. They got older and released their two most musically mature albums and then got insecure and released albums that made them 100% irrelevant.
Jackson: Better to go out in a blaze of glory?
Alex: Eh. Better to just age. If you fade, you fade.
Jackson: Alright, so what’s our final verdict here? Are we excited for the rest of the album? October 15 is a long time away.
Alex: I’m biased, but always.
Jackson: I’m definitely interested to see what they do between now and then. It’s a ballsy move—the album could come out to very little fanfare.
Belair: While I’m leaning more towards the song sounding urgent, I kind of feel like I need to hear the rest of the album before I make a definitive assessment. That said, I’m more excited about this album than I ever was about Backspacer.
Alex: I’ll second that.
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