No Code, album #4 for the ol’ Peeeej, was released in August 1996. Although No Code debuted at #1 on the Billboard Chart, it was the first Pearl Jam record that failed to go multi-platinum (receiving a single platinum certification). For more information about my PEARL JAM project, please go ahead and click this.
After some busy weeks, I’m now officially back to plumbing the depths of alt-rock’s butthole with this careful and reasoned examination of Pearl Jam’s No Code.
I used to always get this album confused with U2’s Achtung Baby, because the covers of both were a bunch of squares with pictures in them and also I considered the people who owned them to be a bunch of squares with bad taste in them. I sort of enjoy that the album’s title seems to be in place simply to dispel the notion that there’s any point to the cover art. “No, no. This isn’t a secret code. It actually is just a bunch of random garbage.”
That’s the cover art, though. What about the music, maaaaaaaaaan?
Sometimes – Pearl Jam bucks its own conventions by opening No Code with a slow-burn instead of a straight-up rager. “Sometimes” isn’t the worst of PJ’s ponderous moments, but it’s definitely not the strongest stage-setter for the rest of the record. There’s a moment where it feels like this track might tip over into something explosive. I can’t decide whether or not the decision to not push the track to explode is a missed opportunity or a demonstration of maturity and restraint.
Hail, Hail – The core riff to this song is brilliantly directionless and propulsive. The song as a whole, though, is kind of a rambling mess. Whenever it falls off of the main riff, I instantly become disinterested. The main riff itself carries a vocal pattern that is as mumbly as Vedder has managed in his career thus far. Not sure on this one. Pretty mediocre.
Who You Are – Three songs in and it sounds like they’ve built a campfire in the studio and now they’re all just wearing baja sweaters and fucking around. This is a pretty rough attempt at creating a sing-a-long anthem, my friends. It’s no “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, I’ll tell you that. Next.
In My Tree – Ouch. This is bad. This sounds completely half-baked and Vedder is off-key. It could be a demo, as far as I’m concerned. The inscrutable jumble of a bridge is the high point by far – and I hate the bridge.
Smile – This song, mercifully, introduces a hook to this record. Unfortunately, it’s wrapped around the world’s most depressing ripoff of Steve Miller’s “The Joker”. Still, thank heaven for small mercies – “Smile” has a chorus that I can enjoy. Best song yet.
Off He Goes – This song pulls off a surprisingly credible imitation of Nebraska-era Springsteen. Easily the best song on the album so far. Well composed with great harmonies. I could stand to hear more material like this from Veddy & Co.
Habit – “Habit” trucks along fairly promisingly as one of the few moments of rock-out bliss on this album. The riffs are chunky and Eddie is growling in a spectacularly haggard fashion. Then they ruin it all in the last minute or so with way too much fucking around. Boy, there’s a lot of fucking around on this record.
Red Mosquito – I have a hard time taking slide guitar seriously, so this song might actually be better than I think it is. This is like Pearl Jam doing Skynyrd and I can’t get into it even for a minute. Also, did the bass guitar jump up in the mix by half on just this one track? Settle down, guy!
Lukin – This song is only a minute long, but it rocks pretty hard and I think it’s alright. The vocals are total spit-fire greatness. More minute-long rockers, please.
Present Tense – This song is endless and tuneless. Holy, this is how not to plant a mellow epic on your album.
Mankind – This is kind of a half-baked “punk” pastiche that feels strangely lifeless. This is total filler garbage. It actually sounds like they reduce the BPM on the click track as the song goes on, but that might just be my own boredom. Boredom powerful enough to bend time & space.
I’m Open – Oh, cool. I was hoping that they would include a drone track that Eddie Vedder could read his unfinished novel overtop of. Jesus fucking christ.
Around The Bend – This sleepy number is a decent capper to the album, and one of the best overall tracks. I don’t love it, but it’s totally pleasant in its subdued way. There’s a sweet nostalgia to it that offsets the languid pace. It’s alright.
Verdict: Yikes. This is a fuck-around record, but doesn’t manage to do feel as good as any of the great fuck-around records. There’s actual spoken word on this record. How did they get away with this?!
A handful of high points, but this rivals Ten in being a Pearl Jam record that I’m almost completely uninterested in. After the relative strengths of Vitalogy, this is a real let-down. Do they only get worse from here? I guess I’ve gone this far already, so I may as well just keep going. So, next week: Yield.