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No Code

music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: No Code

Artist: Pearl Jam
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: August 1996

Review by LarryG
3 stars out of 4

It's hard to pick the best Pearl Jam CD. They're all good records with a lot of good songs and moments of transcendence as well as pointless or self indulgent songs. Their first one, Ten, had great intense songs and you could feel the thrill of young musicians who were really into what they were doing. However, it wasn't exactly subtle and the second half had lots of filler. Vs. was solid with Eddie Vedder's writing showing a lot of improvement and Vitalogy was interestingly varied but neither had consistently high quality. Part of the problem of evaluating which Pearl Jam is best is that they've succeeded in a wide range of music, from ballads to headbangers. My greatest hits tape would include fast, furious songs like Go, Rearview Mirror, Spin the Black Circle and Brain of J. Another reasonable person's tape could be completely different. Purely in terms of the Pearl Jam record with the most good songs, No Code is the winner. No Code doesn't have big radio friendly ballads like Daughter or Better Man or anthemic rockers like Jeremy or Alive, but it does have a depth and maturity that helps explain why the band has lasted and shows every sign of continuing to grow and make interesting music after their Seattle contemporaries from the early 90's are long gone.

While the general mood of No Code is fairly subdued, there are a couple of great fast ones. Hail, Hail creates the rush of a great, fast Pearl Jam rocker. Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, Pearl Jam's strong guitarists, create a huge sound and Jack Irons, who was the latest of many PJ drummers, propels the exhilarating sound. Vedder encouraging sings, "I don't want to think, I wanna feel." Stuck in an ambiguous relationship ("are we bound out of obligation, is that all we've got?") that he wants to make work, Vedder salutes "the lucky ones, I refer to those in love" and the music creates a celebratory mood. Habit is a kick ass hard rock song. Vedder and the band sound like they're loose and having fun. Pearl Jam continue to experiment with new sounds. Who You Are has a nice texture and an Eastern feel, perhaps reflective of Vedder's work with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and creates an easy mood, which grows throughout the song, as Vedder sings of trying to "transcend where we are." Smile also creates a good groove with fuzzy, overlapping guitars and Vedder's harmonica. Vedder creates real poignancy when he cries out, "I miss you already." No Code has two excellent personal, heartbreaking slow songs where Vedder shows an appealing thoughtfulness. In Off He Goes, Vedder movingly sings of concern for a tense friend. Around the Bend is an elegant, quiet finish to No Code. Acoustic guitars and piano back Vedder as he sadly reflects. A real bonus on No Code is Mankind, a nice, loose rocker with Gossard on lead vocals. Vedder is clearly the band's meal ticket but Gossard has an unaffected charm that contrasts well with Vedder's more dramatic presentation. Like on the other Pearl Jam records, all the songs on No Code aren't great. But besides having the most good songs, No Code holds up to repeated listenings for perhaps the same reason it wasn't a huge seller. The songs aren't all obvious and commercial. They don't necessarily grab you on first listen but grow with more and closer listening.



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