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music reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Binaural

Artist: Pearl Jam
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: May 2000

Review by LarryG
2 stars out of 4

Binaural is Pearl Jam's worst studio album so far. Pearl Jam's sound has been evolving from the fairly basic arena rock of their debut Ten CD to more subtle, nuanced music. However, on Binaural they seem stuck. The music lacks the energy of their earlier work and hasn't added anything new. Binaural isn't awful. It's got a number of good songs. But a lot of the songs seem like rehashes of their earlier work. Binaural is also fairly cold. It's dominated by sad, personal tales, often about people unable to control their lives, and the music doesn't often invite you to explore Eddie Vedder's musings.

Pearl Jam's a good band. The rockers on Binaural are well played and a few of them are quite good, even if they feel familiar. Grievance is a vital rocker in the mode of Vs.' Rearviewmirror. It's one of the few times on Binaural that Vedder and the band seem fully engaged. It's a fairly nonspecific protest song but it's got good driving guitars and Matt Cameron drums and some good images like "don't give blood and take it back again." Jeff Ament's Gods' Dice, about being controlled by a higher power, is pretty basic but makes good use of the band's ability to make big, powerful music for an energizing straight ahead song like No Code's Hail Hail. Insignificance is fairly routine hard rock, but it has good, angry lyrics. Presumably referring partly to U.S. bombing in Iraq and Kosovo, Vedder sings about "ten thousand fools who fight irrelevance" and "bombs dropping down, please forgive our hometown in our insignificance." The other rockers are not very exciting or much fun. Vedder's writing is pretty routine. On Evacuation, things are getting so bad that it's time to flee. Evacuation is an O.K. rocker with a sledge hammer guitar riff but it never really goes anywhere. Breakerfall is a hard rocker. It's like Vs.' Animal with a little Who Are You thrown in. It has a decent riff but not much nuance. Breakerfall is mostly Vedder's rant. He acts like he's saying something very meaningful but the entire content of the lyric is, a girl's romantic problems makes her hate the world and only love can make things better.

Light Years is probably the best song on Binaural. It's the kind of song the band does best, a subdued rocker like Better Man. Vedder's vocal is reflective but strong and the band, while showing a light touch, keeps Vedder focused as he tries to make sense of a friend's death. Nothing As It Seems lacks that focus. The story of a man looking for a feeling of home is pretty good but the spacy music, with meandering, showy guitar work, sounds like bad Pink Floyd. Thin Air is a nice unembellished, if slight, song about the mystery of love. But Parting Ways, Sleight of Hand and Of the Girl are indistinct. The slow, eccentric Rival, about some sort of militia ready to "release this unspeakable toll" would be more welcome on a more energetic record. Soon Forget, a lesson that love is more important than money, is mostly interesting as Vedder's tribute to one of his heroes, Pete Townshend. With only his voice and ukelele, Soon Forget closely resembles The Who By Numbers' Blue Red and Grey.

Pearl Jam can make music that rocks, that is beautiful or that has a compelling intensity. All those talents are largely lacking from Binaural. It's a fairly solid but unexciting record. Pearl Jam popularity continues to decline. Their only recent hit was their cover of the cheesy but irresistably simple Last Kiss. They've gotten more attention by releasing a series of live recordings than for their studio records. The murkiness and retreads on Binaural justify continuing decreased interest in their new work.



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