First Appeared at The Music Box, April 1998, Volume 5, #4
Written by John Metzger
This is a transitional album for Pearl Jam, which may explain some of the sales problems that have faced this disc. It's a pretty good effort that floats between the earlier, heavier Pearl Jam (Hail Hail) and the pop ballad Pearl Jam (Off He Goes). Though I like both styles, the best songs fall somewhere in between as the band stretches to reach some new musical dimensions.
Who You Are mixes in a primal, meditational drum beat à la the Moody Blues. Smile smokes like a Neil Young and Crazy Horse song, includes a harmonica solo, and sounds as if it could be an outtake from the Mirror Ball sessions. Present Tense grooves over a thick and funky bass line from Jeff Ament before exploding into Led Zeppelin-inspired mayhem. The band draws heavily from Bob Mould on Mankind and out performs the best pop songs he's ever recorded. Finally, I'm Open revisits a transcendental state as Vedder delivers a spoken-word piece over the band's soothing melodic strains.
The package itself deserves mention. The cover is a collage of photographs taken by the band and a few friends, and the layout is clearly inspired by the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street. Inserted in each disc are larger photo reproductions, which differ from disc to disc. On the flip side of each photo are handwritten lyrics, though some are illegible or reproduced rather faintly. Still, it's a refreshingly different packaging idea that brings back some of the creativity that's been lost since the advent of the compact disc. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1998 The Music Box