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Give Way...Pearl Jam's Mainstream Triumph
on 18 July 2004
To stop and give way to on-coming traffic. That's the definition of the word 'Yield' according to any dictionary you'll find. Pearl Jam probably titled their fifth album this because that's exactly what it does. Their previous two albums, that followed their multi-million selling debut, 'Ten' and their million-in-a-week selling sophomore, 'Vs', became more experimental, with 1994's 'Vitalogy' probably being the best mix of Pearl Jam's ability to rock hard and perform touching balladry, while having a bit of an eye for the different, culminating in 'No Code' which was no very well received at all. In recent years however, 'No Code' has been truly understood, more by the Pearl Jam faithful than anyone else, so at the time releasing an album that was pretty much straight-forward seemed the right thing to do after upsetting their at-that-time Pearl Jam fans who hungered for how they were before and not how they sounded while being 'original'. Hence, 'Yield'. Now 'Yield' may be slightly more traditional than the at-times wacky, 'No Code' and 'Vitalogy', but Pearl Jam were never going to let pressure from anybody else swing them. 'Yield' may be the rock album that many had been waiting for since 6 months after 'Vs' got a bit boring, but there's a lot more to it.
'Yield' is for contemplation as well as chilling. It's for sleeping, it's for moving. It's for walking as much as it is for sitting. Why? Because Pearl Jam hit their commercial peak right here. Not necessarily in sales, after-all, PJ's sales have slipped album by album (which is good in a way, since they're achieving exactly what they intended), but musically. Only a very trusted and clearly talented band would be left to their own devices by their record label, such is Pearl Jam's ability. 'Ten' might be the one that everyone outside the Pearl Jammers sees as their opus, but it was pretty hideous over-produced and lost a lot of its soaring appeal. 'Vs' was gritty, but 'Yield' is smooth and shiny, while still retaining Pearl Jam's power and punk attitude. It's a dark album, it's a light album, it's heavy and it's soft.
Eddie Vedder's already established lyrical powers were already at their top before 'Yield' was released, but on here nothing is toned. Opener 'Brain Of J' for example, is vicious and the lyrics are just as intriguing 'Who's got the brain of JFK, what does it mean to us now?' Vedder howls, referring to the theft of John F Kennedy's brain some time ago. Basically it can be heavy stuff while being quite light and humorous in places. Yes, the album has it's fair share of rockers, but it has plenty of contemplative and more emotionally powerful moments than any of Pearl Jam's prior releases, and to be quite honest, still to this very date, Pearl Jam have never sounded as good as this. There are also one or two songs in between. Leading single 'Given To Fly' which follows the story of someone under appreciated, finally gaining a gift, then deciding to share it and being stolen from (human nature as a whole basically), share between slower, wave like verses before the full soaring chorus, which has Vedder sounding like he's hollering from the top of a mountain, with the guitars reaching as high as they can just to touch him. It's one of the highlights of Pearl Jam's career put lightly. Pearl Jam has always had a rare ability to perform beautiful ballads as well as hard, gritty rock songs. Hard gritty rock songs on 'Yield' may come rarely but they are some of Pearl Jam's best. 'Do The Evolution', possibly their darkest song, has a huge guitar riff, Vedder almost grunting the words he sings, and hollering at the top of his voice on the chorus. 'It's Evolution, baaaabbbbyyyy!'. It's starting to sound that way.
However, Pearl Jam's shining point on 'Yield' is their ability to tone down. The album is packed full with some of Pearl Jam's best ballads to date. Take the deserty 'No Way' for example. There's something very dark and negative around something that almost sounds upbeat, which is what Pearl Jam do very well. 'Low Light' is also stunning; sounding just as if Pearl Jam were giving you a warm and cosy, intimate acoustic gig right there in front of you, while it positively soars. The closing 'All Those Yesterdays', along with 'Riot Act's' 'All Or None' and a couple of the b-sides from 'Lost Dogs', is Pearl Jam's most wonderfully wilting track. Something to close your eyes to and drift, which is what the song itself, does right around your room. Most satisfyingly of all on 'Yield' is 'Wishlist'. A beautiful, almost smile-inducing and yet sorrowful piece of pleading in such a mainstream radio rock way that only Pearl Jam can do it, and somehow make it so the song would never actually fit onto mainstream rock radio, despite it being one of their most easy on the ear and pleasing songs they've penned to date.
Along with Pearl Jam's expected unusual experimental leanings, in the untitled 'Dot' track and the weird 'Push Me, Pull Me', Pearl Jam have delivered their most consistent and moving album to date. Having said that, both 'Binaural' and 'Riot Act' haven't exactly been masterpieces, but as with most of Pearl Jam's albums they will come of age in time, which is exactly what 'Yield' is doing now, and if you think about the works that came before it, then it's no small feat that is PJ's best, most consistent work to date.
It's on the better side of pain and on the lesser side of joy, but 'Yield' sounds very good on it, and really is not a work to be missed, especially for those who appreciate soaring guitar songs and beautiful low-key balladry. Pearl Jam left their experimental leanings behind for the most part on this one and delivered what they do best. Put basically, Pearl Jam did exactly what they said on the tin - gave way to other oncoming traffic, including their own, taking a moment to breath - and then some. As well as this, 'Yield' is the sound of one of the best modern day musical units working at the top of their game. Quite frankly, it's one of the 90's most under-appreciated and best albums.