"Can't Keep" was debuted by Vedder on ukulele during two solo concerts in early 2002, but the slow-burning track is transformed here with layers of buzzing, treated guitars and a rumbling beat in the vein of Led Zeppelin's "Poor Tom," which would have fit nicely on the band's 1996 album No Code. Vedder's ukulele demo was the first song on a tape of ideas he gave to the rest of the band and was quickly seized upon by Gossard as one that would be "killer" if it could be translated to the full band.
"This is the cool thing about letting yourself go and not trying to maintain control over your vision," Vedder says. "Sometimes you write a song, and you have a certain way you hear it in your head. The ukulele version of ‘Can't Keep' is much faster. It's much more punk rock than what it ended up, for sure. And that's okay. You can almost feel the band feeling each other out and building together."
In contrast, Vedder's acoustic ballad "Thumbing My Way" was barely modified from its original demo and captured on tape during one of the band's first run-throughs. "We were out in the room playing the song and learning it," Ament recalls. "In the process, Adam went and remiked everything very covertly. So all of a sudden, when we were ready to play it, it was up, and he captured it. Nailed it. That to me was really critical and kind of how the record sounds. A lot of times, there's that cool thing when you don't quite know the song and everybody is really concentrating. It lasts for four or five takes, and then it's gone. After that, it's all cerebral."
The song also presaged Vedder's acoustic-driven work a few years later on the Into the Wild soundtrack. "‘Thumbing My Way' is kind of a beginning in terms of Ed really getting more into an acoustic singer-songwriter thing in a way that you always knew that he could," Gossard says. "He was just finally getting comfortable with the idea that maybe he'd bring a little of that into Pearl Jam. The sentiment of the song is amazing."
Elsewhere, songs like "Save You" and "Green Disease" offer relentless, punk-leaning rock harking back to Pearl Jam's second and third albums. "I came in with that riff, and we just kind of started jamming on it," McCready says of "Save You," the tale of a mutually detrimental love-hate relationship. "It was a blast to play. The track that actually ended up on there, halfway through the song, Matt lost his headphones. He was going off. That's my favorite part of that song – his crazy drum fills."
With a tinge of Split Enz's new wave-punk hybrid, "Green Disease" finds Vedder trying to make sense of a culture of greed: "I said there's nothing wrong with what you say / Believe me, just asking you to sway / No white or black, just gray / Can you feel this world with your heart and not your brain?"
"It's like, okay, I'm not saying capitalism is what's wrong about this," Vedder says of the song, for which his vision of a superthin and dry sound led him to record the basic track with just Cameron and Ament backing him. "It's more like corporate responsibility. You can't tell me there's not other ways of making it good for everybody."
There's no doubt about the subject of "Bu$hleaguer," a comic swipe at then president George W. Bush, on which Vedder utilizes a spoken word delivery for his pointed opinions in the verses: "A confidence man, but why so beleaguered? / He's not a leader, he's a Texas leaguer." Although it would become most closely associated with Vedder once he began performing it live while wearing a Bush mask, the song was actually written by Gossard.
"It's so satirical," he says. "The four-on-the-floor drum feel that Matt is playing – he's playing a kick drum pattern we don't have a lot of in our songs. The groovy, spooky outro is kind of a different thing." Adds Ament, "Everything Stone brought in was kind of dark. The one lyric he had was, ‘Blackout weaves its way through the city.' That's a totally heavy line. The way Ed wrote lyrics around that, they were almost kind of humorous. It made the song even creepier to me."
On the other end of the spectrum is a song like "You Are," which remains one of the strangest-sounding Pearl Jam tracks ever. It features reverb-soaked guitar riffing and a funky, strutting beat, while the middle break finds Vedder in multitracked falsetto, repeating the title phrase.
"I had gotten a new drum machine that allows you to make up patterns, and then they'll play through whatever audio instrument you plug in," Cameron says. "It was more of an experiment to use the parameters of this machine as well. It came out really cool, and the guys really liked it. I took my machine down to the studio, dumped it into the computer, and did an arrangement. Eddie finished up the small bit of lyrics I had written for it. It's just another example of having your band elevate your music to a level you've never envisioned."
Says Gossard, "It was a moment of inspiration, for sure."
Adds McCready, "Perspiration for me! I was blown away by it. It kind of reminded me a little of the Cure, maybe, or something that this band has never really experimented with before. I was real excited and proud to play that song to all my friends, you know, ‘Check this one out! This is a way different kind of vibe.'"
From PEARL JAM TWENTY. Copyright © 2011 by Monkeywrench, Inc. and Pearl Jam LLC. Published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Reprinted by permission.
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