Pearl Jam's last studio album, "Yield", was a revelation. Finally shrugging off the last vestments of grunge they emerged, phoenix like, with an arsenal of crackling tunes, finely honed lyrics and the irresistible Neil Young-like surge of "Given To Fly", surely the most astonishingly kinetic song they've yet recorded. All of which makes "Binaural" a crushing disappointment to these ears.
Here they've returned to the dull-but-worthiness that characterised much of their previous work. "Binaural" might open with a dose of punkish energy but it's almost entirely dissipated during the three-minute wonders of "Breakerfall" and "God's Dice". The remainder of the album flounders in the brooding swamplands of Eddie Vedder's psyche, songs such as "Insignificance" and "Grievance" being as much hard work as their titles suggest. There are occasional moments of levity, for example the ukulele-strung "Soon Forget", wherein Vedder cautions "Sorry is the fool who trades his soul for a Corvette/Thinks he'll get the girl, he'll only get the mechanic", or the hidden closing typewriter solo, but mostly "Binaural" is a relentless slog to get through. Despite the elaborate NASA photographs of distant stars that decorate the booklet, here Pearl Jam remain naggingly earthbound, which, given the ambition of some of their recent work, is a real shame.
PEARL JAM Ten (Epic)
It seems unsporting to lambaste Ten for being a grunge behemoth when its creators have done so much good work (admittedly for a more selective audience) since, for example the Neil Young-ish Yield or the pro-vinyl Vitalogy. Nevertheless, say what you (dont) like about Nirvanas Nevermind but when I reappraised it recently it appeared to have worn the years far better than Pearl Jams debut, which seems weighted down with bloated self-importance at this remove. Where Nirvana freely admitted bootlegging their quiet-loud-quiet template from the Pixies, it seems we have Ten to blame for the colourless likes of Staind and Jimmy Eat Worlds solipsistic emo.
Ten at least contains all those big singles to get all mopey over again (Alive, Even Flow and Jeremy) , but they now seem so overwrought it sounds like the kind of music Nevermind was a reaction against a grunge Marillion, perhaps rather than contemporaneous with. Even the better moments such as Black are undermined by Eddie Vedders bleating vocals, and those modish single word track titles really grate. Whilst Im whingeing, whoever had the bright idea of cramming nearly thirty minutes of music on side one of the vinyl issue cleverly rendered it even more preposterous, squeezing out any power and dynamic attack the mastertape might possess.