29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Binaural (Audio CD)
Pearl Jam has never been a band to be boxed into formulaic songwriting or pinned down with simple-minded categorizations. What makes PJ great is their willingness to experiment, evolve and take significant RISKS with each release. It's a risky proposition, because along with great hits can come great misses, and the public is ever so fickle and resistant to change. But it's something that will ultimately make PJ a truly standout - if not classic - band. And who in the hell ever said that you judge a band's quality by the album sales? If you believe that, you've been missing out on 90% of the best music out there. Populist tendencies and crowd-pleaser work do not necessarily a classic make.
The most ironic thing about this all is that on "Binaural" PJ continues on with their original purpose...making experimental, truly "ALTERNATIVE" music, pushing the envelope and exploring sounds and textures. It's ironic because that's what alternative and grunge were about in the first place - the spirit of the movement was about music deviating from the mainstream. No, this isn't a "Ten" or a "Vs." because those were ten years ago...back then, THAT was "alternative". PJ have continued to evolve and follow their vision. And now they're getting slammed for doing what people loved about them at first. Of course each album should be evaluated according to it's musical and lyrical substance and quality, not its genre...it's just a point that I personally find amusing.
Having said that, "Binaural" is quite, quite good. PJ here sounds restrained yet raw, elegant, graceful, mature, MUSICAL. It's a RAUCOUS album played with freshness and almost abandon - yet layered and complex. A WORD OF CAUTION: "Binaural" takes time to grow on you. It's a bit difficult to digest at first and takes repeated listens to really understand the quality behind this album. It's not formulaic, and the hooks are subtle. It's about layers...with each spin new elements emerge that contribute to finally understanding the whole. Give it time and really listen.
The first thing that impacted me was the production - it's raw and almost primitive - almost a throwback to the analog days. A reviewer said it best when he said they sound like an indie band. Don't get me wrong, each instrument is distinct and clearly heard...it's just missing the typical slick, "digital" production. It's as if the songs were recorded live in the studio with minimal effects (maybe they were?). Almost muddy, but not quite. To me it works, but not everyone will be pleased with it.
The musicianship on this album is excellent. Eddie's voice is more versatile and uses more textures and inflection than ever. Some of the screaming rage is gone, but it's replaced by a simmering, brooding anger and a deeper frustration and emotion. The guitars are outstanding...listen to the interplay between Stone and Mike, the subtle strains of classic rock, southern rock, folk...the emotional licks and riffs. There is always a dual attack going on which gives the music dimension. A bit of the biting, electric wall-of-sound approach is missing to be replaced by a more textured, classsic, almost jangly (at times) sound...it's a small gripe I have. But worry not, they still rock when needed. Jeff's bass playing is spot-on and supports the rhythm solidly while providing melodic elements of his own. And Matt Cameron's drumming is sensational. This is a brilliant drummer - one of the best in any style of rock today.
For the most part, this album is a hit. The aggressive rockers like "Breakerfall", "God's Dice" are true standouts. Again, think raw indie approach. "Insignificance" and "Grievance" are arguably two of the best songs PJ has ever penned. Beautifully done. And of their slower tracks, "Light Years", "Thin Air" are very good, with brooding emotion and subtle hooks. Of their more experimental songs, "Nothing Is As It Seems" and "Sleight of Hand" are great, psychedelic numbers...with "Parting Ways" being absolutely brilliant.
Now, some misses (to me): "Rival" is too experimental and to me comes off sounding forced and out of character. "Soon Forget" (Eddie's ditty with a ukelele) sounds genuine but bland and forgetful. It's missing expression and I believe Eddie could have done more with it. Finally, the rocker "Evacuation" does rock, but it's difficult to latch on to, even after repeated listenings...it toes the line of sounding dissonant and disjointed and ALMOST out of control - like a last-minute improvised jam session. It works to some effect, but it can be a bit annoying.
Some have said that if this was an album by a new band, it would be ignored. I take a different tack...if this was an album by a new band, it would be hailed as brilliant, original, fresh, etc. But since it's PJ and PJ has been boxed into a formula and sound by the public, it doesn't conform to expectations, so the album is not widely accepted. Think about it.
Great album...if you're open-minded enough.