Least to Most: Pearl Jam – Riot Act

“Take the reigns, steer us toward the clear…”

A lot can happen in two years. I’ve written on the time between Binaural and Riot Act before but, to summarise: nine fans were killed during the band’s performance at the 2000 Roskilde Festival – an abrupt full stop which found Pearl Jam questioning if they could continue, friend and fellow ‘grunge’ icon Layne Staley died, Eddie Vedder went through a divorce and, external to the band, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the Bush administration shifted America’s landscape drastically.

Ahead of their first show following Roskilde, Eddie Vedder sat alone in his hotel room writing a song to “reassure myself that this is going to be all right.” ‘I Am Mine’, as Matt Cameron said, “has all the elements this band is known for: strong lyrics, strong hook, and a good sense of melody. It wasn’t a really tough decision to have that be the starting point for the record.”

Following the Binaural tour cycle, Pearl Jam took a short break – Matt Cameron’s Wellwater Conspiracy dropped it’s third album, Stone Gossard released the first ‘solo’ album from a Pearl Jam member (which he was in New York promoting on 9/11) and Vedder – having played five shows with Neil Finn and other musicians (later captured on the worth-checking-out Seven Worlds Collide) – disappeared off the grid for a year on a remote Hawaiian island where he connected with Boom Gaspar who was playing B3 at a musician’s wake. The two hooked up again a few days later and very quickly wrote an eleven minute tune that would become another key album track, ‘Love Boat Captain’.

When it came time to recording their new album, Pearl Jam chose to do so with Adam Kasper (who’s credits to that point included two albums for Foo Fighters, a Queens of the Stone Age album amongst others) at the suggestion of Matt Cameron as Kasper had also produced Soundgarden’s last album, Down on the Upside.

The resulting album is one of the lost gems in Pearl Jam’s catalogue. Riot Act has still – 16 years on – shifted less copies than Vs did in its first week alone. I know Pearl Jam fans who don’t know more than the couple of tunes that remain in modern setlists. As I’ve argued before and will continue to do so – they’re missing out. Stronger than BinauralRiot Act benefits from Vedder having banished his writer’s block and having a much broader and emotional range of subjects to draw on and, frankly, get angry about -though Vedder has said that “If you think about it, it’s all very confusing and overwhelming to try to grasp it and put it all down.”

The album kicks off with ‘Can’t Keep’ – a tune that Vedder had played on the ukulele during a couple of solo shows (and would record as such on his own Ukulele Songs a few years later) that Gossard heard and enthused would be “killer” with the full band treatment and became a slow-burning thumper with buzzing, treated guitars that feels like a No Code song and leads into what is now a quite rare thing: a full band composition, ‘Save You’.

With lyrics that tackle addiction and the pain and frustration of seeing a close friend waste their life, ‘Save You’ is Mike McCready’s only writing credit on Riot Act and came about when he was sitting down with Stone Gossard (who contributed a fair bit song-writing wise) and “had two ideas, and one idea I worked really hard on and thought it was totally great and then I played it for him, and he goes, ‘Well, that’s not…well that’s okay. You got anything else?’ And so, the other thing I had was the “Save You” riff, and he goes, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Ya know, so it’s…I was really built up to wanting to play this other song, and uh, nobody seemed to be very excited about it…”

‘Save You’ leans into the relentless, hard-edged rock sound that would blend seamlessly alongside tracks from Vitalogy as would the propulsive-beat driven ‘Green Disease.’ ‘Thumbing My Way’, meanwhile, is an acoustic ballad that showcases a change in direction for Vedder’s writing and is a clear signpost for what was to come with Into The Wild while ‘You Are’ is a personal favourite. Born out of expirmenting with a new drum machine that Matt Cameron had gotten hold of, it’s another great example of the band taking one member’s ideas and creating something memorable.

It would be impossible to talk about Riot Act without giving at least a passing mention to ‘Bu$hleaguer’. A dark, weaving satirical swipe, this was Pearl Jam at their most unambiguous politically and – while not much touched since – would regularly draw boos and jeers from certain clusters of the crowd when played live. Though even before the record was released there was no way to think Pearl Jam were Bush supporters so you’ve gotta wonder about the ‘shock’ it created.

Riot Act could very easily have been Pearl Jam’s greatest record. Reinvigorated and with a wealth of inspiration to draw on, there are some fantastic tunes on their seventh album (and there’s not many bands you can say that about). But… they should’ve taken a break. They sound a little tired and songs like ‘Ghost’ and ‘Help Help’ even sound tired. As much as I love the majority of Riot Act there are still 5 of its 15 songs I’ll skip more than listen through to and while that’s still a pretty signal to noise ratio (to borrow a phrase), when stacked against other works – it means it doesn’t quite reach the heights it could have done.

The odd thing is that had you cut those 5 songs and thrown in the ‘B’ sides recorded during these sessions – ‘Down’, ‘Undone’, and the brilliant ‘Otherside’ instead then Riot Act would have been one of their greatest albums.

However, there’s a sense of finality about Riot Act. In many ways it marks the end of a chapter for Pearl Jam – it would be four years before they’d release another album and, with Riot Act they completed their ‘studio’ obligations to Sony Music’s Epic Records with whom they had signed as Mookie Blaylock ahead of recording their debut Ten and, following their next tour, would take a much-needed break.

Least to Most: Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

“It’s a fragile thing, this life we lead
If I think too much I can get over-
Whelmed by the grace
By which we live our lives with death over our shoulders”
Sirens

Four years seperated the release of Backspacer and Lightning Bolt, Pearl Jam’s tenth (and, currently, most recent) studio album. A band that used to release an album every 18 months or so like clockwork had learnt to slow down and catch their breath between releases and tours.

In those four years the band was far from idle. There were re-releases / expanded editions of Vs and Vitalogy, a live album and the whole Pearl Jam Twenty celebration / lap of honour that included a Cameron Crowe helmed documentary, book, compilation (all very very good), two day festival and tour.

Oh – and a plethora of solo activity: Jeff Ament formed RNDM with Joseph Arthur and released and album as did his other side-project Tres Mts, Stone Gossard dropped a couple of Brad albums, Matt Cameron slipped back onto the drum seat for a little-known Seattle band called Soundgarden’s reunion, Mike McCready got in on a Mad Season reunion-of-sorts and formed Walking Papers with Duff McKagan (yes, that Duff McKagan) and even Eddie dropped a solo album, again ‘of sorts’, with Ukulele Songs (which is fine depending on your appetite for half an hour of Eddie and his uke).

Why do I mention all these solo projects in a review of a Pearl Jam band album, I don’t hear you ask. Well, for all the claims that these side projects help the band members bring more into album sessions and that may have been true in the 90’s when the band had couldn’t stand up for ideas falling out of their arses, I think it’s now the opposite case. When sessions for Lightning Bolt were delayed and interrupted by these commitments and solo tours I can’t help but feel that creative and energy levels were actually drained than recharged and the band’s tenth studio album kind suffered as a result.

But does that matter? Let’s face it: Pearl Jam are in a pretty unique position that few bands or acts reach. Twenty-two years into their life as a band they’re one of the greatest live draws still regularly touring, can sell out arenas, stadiums and ball-parks across the globe, their place and legacy are sealed and were – in 2013 and now – at the point where as long as their new album didn’t stink the place up like Pepé Le Pew and contained a good few songs to mix into the live set, will continue to be able to do so for years to come and keep their legacy intact even if it’s unlikely to bring any new fans into the fold.

Sill “everyone’s a critic looking back up the river” as the first words that ushered in Lightning Bolt point out and there’s a lot of strong material and a willingness to experiment and push boundaries within these forty-seven minutes that show Pearl Jam aren’t quite ready to rest on their laurels and are still trying to push their songwriting forward.

Lyrically, these are some of Vedder’s most accessible and direct, an extension of the approach begun on Backspacer (“For years, it was playing word games and expressing those emotions, but doing it in such a way that was cryptic and where Mark Arm from Mudhoney would still have some modicum of respect for me. But nowadays, it’s more like sitting down and writing a song, and whatever comes out, comes out.”) and musically it’s a lot more diverse than their previous album, with Stone Gossard referring to  “a slight return to some of the more sort of peculiar things we did, say, between No Code and Binaural.”

I really dig a huge chunk of Lightning Bolt and love that diversity in their sound, aptly beefed up by the physicality of Brendan O’Brien production. Take ‘Pendulum’ – how often to you get to hear Mike McCready using a bow on his guitar? – for a good start:

It’s a dark, broody beast that really doesn’t feel like the ‘by the numbers’ Pearl Jam you’d expect of a band this far into their recording career and works great live. It was a Gossard add Jeff Ament composition that even they didn’t expect Eddie to latch on to and work up into a band song. While we’re in the mid-section, ‘Pendulum’ is preceded by another Ament & Gossard composition and highlight, ‘Infallible’, whose groove and progression are like noting else in the PJ catalog and I love the directions the melody veers off in, with near-Beatles like passages :

A lot of attention pre and post release was given to ‘Sirens’ with due course. It’s one of the band’s finest. From a musical point of view, it’s a Mike McCready compostion (which I can never have enough of) inspired after attending a stop on Roger Waters’ ‘The Wall’ tour and wanting “to write something that would have a Pink Floyd type feel”. You can tell pretty much exactly which song he was cribbing from but when paired with Vedder’s most open and direct lyrics it’s elevated beyond ‘power ballad’ territory to a yearning ode on the fear of life’s fragility and our own mortality.

Of course, there are some more expected leanings on Lightning Bolt. ‘Mind Your Manners’ is a ripping, Dead Kennedys inspired rocker that finds Vedder back in angry mode and plays to their strengths, as does ‘Let The Records Play’ which threads a ‘power of spinning vinyl’ theme around a tasty Stone Gossard (this is very much a record for Stone fans) riff with great results.

Instead of a couple, Lightning Bolt produced a good half dozen songs that really add to Pearl Jam’s setlist (even if they’re not the ones that Ed scrawls onto a piece of paper ahead of a show) and any PJ playlist – including the one which will follow this series*. However, there are a few that don’t make the cut.

I still haven’t really clicked with ‘My Father’s Son’ and while ‘Lightning Bolt’ and ‘Getaway’, for example, are fine songs they don’t particularly add anything to pull this album further up in terms of its ‘go to’ placement in the band’s overall catalogue.

Vedder said of the writing that they’re continually trying to ” make not just the best Pearl Jam record, but just the best record.” While Lightning Bolt may not be the one, it is stronger than you’d expect of a band’s tenth album and finds the band not only playing to their strengths but still pushing in unexpected directions. As long as they continue trying to do so it’s worth checking in and always worth getting to a Pearl Jam show when they come to town.

Oh, and in terms of album closers, though, they went with a beauty on Lightning Bolt with ‘Future Days’.

Highlights: ‘Mind Your Manners’, ‘Sirens,’ ‘Infallible,’ ‘Pendulum,’ ‘Let The Records Play,’ Yellow Moon,’ ‘Future Days’.

Not-so highlights: ‘My Father’s Son, ‘Sleeping By Myself’.

*At this rate that may be a Christmas special

Love is a tower: Pearl Jam’s “Lost Years” 2000-2005 (Part Two)

A little over month on from the tragedy at the 2000 Roskilde Festival, Pearl Jam returned to the stage as the North American leg of their Binaural tour got under way. In a hotel room ahead of the first post-Roskilde show in Virginia, Vedder wrote a song  called ‘I Am Mine’ to “reassure myself that this is going to be all right”.

It’s a Pearl Jam playing to its strengths song – strong hook and melody with affirming lyrics. As Mike McCready says: “It’s kind of a positive affirmation of what to do with one’s life. I’m born and I die, but in between that, I can do whatever I want or have a strong opinion about someting.”

The tour – which would include a Tenth Anniversary show in Las Vegas featuring the debut of Vedder’s take on Mother Love Bone’s ‘Crown of Thorns’ – would wind down back in Seattle in November. The Binauarl tour also saw the commencement of Pearl Jam’s on-going Bootleg series – every show (with the exception of Roskilde) would be recorded and released as “official bootlegs” in a move designed to prevent fans being fleeced for inferior recordings of their shows. It’s move that’s since been taken up my many an artist. Instead of going back to work on a new album, Pearl Jam took a year off.

2001 saw Vedder join a list of musicians in playing five shows with Neil Finn (later captured on the worth-checking-out Seven Worlds Collide), Matt Cameron’s Wellwater Conspiracy release its third album and  Stone Gossard break cover as the first member of Pearl Jam to put out a solo album under their own name. Bayleaf was released on September 11th, Gossard was in New York doing press for it when to hikacked airliners were crashed into the World Trade Center.

When Pearl Jam returned to action in 2002 the world had changed both internally and externally. The band wanted to address these themes in their music even if “Universal themes aren’t easy to come up with when you’re just a guy and a typewriter and a guitar.”  In the aptly named Riot Act they would do their damndest and created a record full of great tunes that received barely any attention even amongst Pearl Jam fans. I know many a fan who can cite every lyric on Vitalogy but wouldn’t know a word of ‘Green Disease’ and it’s a real shame as there’s a direct line between the two.

Riot Act is an album that clearly benefits from having five songwriters with strong contributions from all. Vedder had returned from his place in Hawaii with both a mohawk (which worked perfectly for his induciton of the Ramones into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame*) and a new band member – Boom Gasper – with whom, on their first night of playing together he had written ‘Love Boat Captain’.

For my money the Adam Kasper produced Riot Act is a stronger album than Binaural. It’s tougher, it’s heavier with hook and Vedder is clearly pissed off. Take ‘Green Disease’ – a propulsive, guitar driven rocker that would’nt have been out of place on Vitalogy that tackles the culture of greed. Or ‘Can’t Keep’ – a tune that Vedder bought in as a ukelele demo that became a multi-layered slow burner with buzzing guitars that brings back memories of No Code while the punk-edged ‘Save You’ is thrashed along on a Mike McCready riff while  Eddie Vedder sings of the anger felt watching a loved one losing themselves to addiction.

For me other highlights are ‘Bu$hleaguer’,  ‘You Are’ and Vedder’s ‘Thumbing My Way’. It’s a clear signpost to where Ed was heading as a songwriter and mark the acoustic-driven direction that would come to fruition on the Into The Wild soundtrack and songs on Backspacer and Lightning Bolt that would allow the songwriter the confidence to be direct and open in his lyrics. Stone Gossard feels the song is his bandmate “getting into an acoustic singer-songwriter thing in a way that you always knew that he could. ”

You Are‘ is one of the strangest sounding songs Pearl Jam have put to tape. A really different vibe that was born out of expirmenting with a new drum machine that Matt Cameron had gotten hold of, it’s another great example of the band taking one member’s ideas and creating something memorable.**

The reception to Riot Act wasn’t that positive when it dropped in November 2002. Press was less than luke-warm and sales weren’t strong. Without a radio-friendly ‘hit’ airplay for those songs released as singles was blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. Nonetheless, in 2003 the band headed out onto the road for the first time in close to three years.  With setlists that changed nightly and made use of their extensive back catalogue and covers repetoire, the tour was a success by any measure but, for the first time, saw the band court contreversy and receive more than a few boos thanks to the inclusion of ‘Bu$hleageur’. I’ve covered this before but it’s a noteable – this dark, weaving satirical swipe at George W Bush drew negative reponses and walkouts through the tour (seriousy – did you think Pearl Jam were fucking Republicans who like blind marching to war?) but it reached a head at the Nassau Coliseaum in Uniondale:

Jeff Ament: “I was totally fine with it. I was ready to go out and open up with that fucking song every night I wasn’t going to be a part of something and then take it back. We recorded the song and put it on a record, and that’s how we felt.”

Riot Act was Pearl Jam’s last studio album for Epic Records. They rounded out 2003 with the release of Lost Dogs – a compilation of b-sides that featured many fan favourites and strong songs from the era covered in these posts such as ‘Down‘ and ‘Otherside’ – as part of their contractual obligations.

In 2004 Pearl Jam joined the VoteFor Change Tour in support of John Kerry. Live At Benoraya Hall, a mainly acoustic (thankfully McCready doesn’t seem to have gotten that memo and bought his full arsenal) set recorded the previous year was released in July and features songs from Binaural and Riot Act sitting alongside deeper cuts and ‘hits’. In this setting these songs shine and their place in Pearl Jam’s back catalogue feel established rather than those of albums that are outliers in the discorapthy as they’re so often regarded.

The final release of this period for Pearl Jam was, fittingly, a summary; the obligatory (again likely contractual) Greatest Hits. A neat little package that rounded up the rockers and the ballads in an Up disc and a Down disc with some tasty remastering of Ten tracks by Brendan O’Brien. It’s a solid compilation and I’ll still drop it in the car fairly regularly – but started a trend that continues to this day much to the chagrin of many a fan; the cropping of images to remove Dave Abbruzzesse from the picture.

2005 saw the band break the album-tour-album-tour cycle and head out for a tour without new music to promote. Just getting out and playing to audiences for the fun of it. It was a master stroke. While work was underway on the album that would become 2006’s Pearl Jam (then the longest period between albums), Pearl Jam are one of the greatest live bands still actively playing and while radio interest and sales may never recover from the 2000-2005 lull and changing mainstream, as long as they continue to put out albums of strong songs that delight live they’ll be relevent to a very sizeable audience.

I’ll finish here with the ‘new’ song on Benoroya and Greatest Hits. Written for Tim Burton’s ‘Big Fish’ it was a pretty moving song in its orginal context but after personal events last year I can’t listen to it without getting a little moist in the eye.  That’s got to be the sign of a good song if it’s that affecting and from 2000 – 2005 Pearl Jam wrote a shit load of good songs.

 

*Vedder, clearly drunk, doesn’t give a fuck. In a speech that’s just brilliant he rags on Disney and tells the crowd to fuck themselves. I can’t recall where but someone said when Jann Wenner dies his afterlife will consist of being stuck in the audience for eternity https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Oi-SKOqVHA 

** ‘The Fixer’, Pearl Jam’s most instantly accessible and lyrically direct song from Backspacer is another example of a Matt Cameron riff becomming something else in the band’s hands.

 

And wherever we might go: Pearl Jam’s ‘Lost Years’ 2000-2005 (Part One)

In February 1998 Pearl Jam released Yield. It marked something of a comeback for them; it was more straight-ahead than the wilfully restrained No Code, saw the band release their first music video since 1992 and, with the Ticket Master battle lost, marked a return to full-scale touring (documented on Live On Two Legs, released that November). At one sound check that autumn they recorded a song for that year’s fan club Christmas single*. When it began picking up airplay on radio the following year Pearl Jam’s cover of ‘Last Kiss’ soon went into heavy rotation and ended up hitting No. 2 on the charts, giving them their biggest hit to date.

They ‘d be entitled to take a break at this point, to catch their breath and attend to life off the road but then at this point they hadn’t quite learnt how to do that** and they carried on into the new millennium and a period which would see acclaim and sales diminish further than they had with the release of No Code and events that nearly marked the end of the band.

As companies the world over and religious sects and cults realised that the ticking of the clock into a new millennium meant neither massive technological meltdowns, raptures or Armageddons weren’t happening, all was not well in the Pearl Jam camp. The band’s not-so-secret weapon Mike McCready was battling addiction to painkillers and sessions for Binaural were marked by his absence as well as Eddie Vedder – who, though intensely guarded about his personal life, was experiencing both the worst case of writer’s block he’d encountered and divorce. As such, Vedder has since referred to the recording of Binaural as being “a construction job”.

Perhaps they should have taken that break. I mean, after all, Binaural shifted less than Yield and has still to make the million mark and Riot Act has still moved less than half of what Vs shifted in its first five days alone. Are they that bad? No, in short, they’re not. In fact I’m here to argue that for both the uninitiated and the initiated (I still know Pearl Jam fans that haven’t listened to Riot Act), there’s some real gems to be found in this era.

I’ll hold up Binaural‘s first single ‘Nothing As It Seems’ as an example. Written by  bass player Jeff Ament, it started as a very dry, basic demo. He took it to McCready and told him that for the song to happen, the guitarist would need to go to town on it. He did.

Now perhaps I am a little biased in my views as Binaural was the first ‘new’ Pearl Jam release since I’d gotten into the band but I do love this song and while it’s most definitely a headphone album (thanks to the binaural recording technique you’ll need both buds in), live this one, like so many others, comes into its own and McCready’s work on it is guaranteed a rapturous response.

For my money – and I remember the surprised face on the tube on the way to see the band at Wembley when I voiced this opinion to those I was travelling with – Binaural is very much a second-half album. The faster songs that open it don’t quite suit the recording technique even with Brendan O’Brien’s mixing efforts but the second half, from ‘Light Years’ (itself a lovely song and one I’m always surprised by when it comes up on playlists – ‘how could I forget this one?’) on contains some of the juiciest things the band have put to tape.

Insignificance‘ is up there with ‘Corduroy’ as one of the band’s best mid-tempo rockers and I remember it ripping the roof off Wembley Arena. ‘Soon Forget’ marked the introduction of Vedder’s ukulele and cleared his writer’s block, ‘Of The Girl‘ – which started out as a bluesy riff from Stone – is the best use of the binaural recording technique on the album and ‘Sleight of Hand’, a mediation on being stuck in a routine and dissatisfied with one’s life,  is the realisation of the band’s most art-rock aspirations with its effects and wall-of-sound blasts in the chorus:

In hindsight the band have come to regard Binaural as an album marked by distractions and missed opportunities, a lack of focus that meant the album lacked the power it could have had. Gossard, for his part, feels that they should’ve gotten more out of new drummer Matt Cameron – “It should have devastated in a way that Temple of the Dog devastated”. They just weren’t writing with him in mind. Jeff Ament goes further, believing that in cutting songs like ‘Sad’ and ‘Education’ “we look back and think we didn’t put some of the best songs on it.”

Indeed – released later on Lost Dogs – songs from the sessions like ‘Fatal‘, ‘Education’ ‘Sad’ would certainly have added a different angle to the album than, say, ‘God’s Dice’.

Upon release  Binaural was received pretty favourably by the press and while the sales weren’t what they were used to be and radio had already shifted what little focus it had given the band to acts incorporating the scratch of turntables into rock, Pearl Jam did what they’ve always done – headed out onto the road. A tour of North America was lined up but, first, they’d venture to Europe to play a series of arena shows – I caught them when they played Wembley in May –  and festivals including Pinkpop in the Netherlands and to Denmark to play the Roskilde festival.

During ‘Daughter’ the 50,000 strong crowd continued to surge forward. The band had made many a plea for the crowd to take a step back and, realising something was wrong, stopped playing. “It was chaos,” Vedder has said. “Some people were yelling ‘thank you.’ Others, who weren’t in bad shape, were running up and saying ‘hi.’ Then someone was pulled over, laid out and they were blue. We knew immediately it had gone on to that other level.”

Eight young men aged between 17 and 25 had been killed in the crush and bodies were being passed over the barricades as the band and fans stood and watched in horror. A ninth man would die in hospital five days later.

The remainder of the European tour was cancelled and, not knowing how to move forward, the members of Pearl Jam considered retiring. 

 

*Since 1991 the band have released a fan-club-only single every holiday season (with the exception of 1994)

**When Jack Irons joined the band he was both impressed and surprised by their work ethic. Work on No Code had kicked off during a heat wave and immediately after a massive show. Iron’s was understandably knackered and, frankly, fancied a rest. The band didn’t yet know the importance of doing so and were too keen to keep pushing forward with the momentum and energy of the tour.

Soundtracks: Singles

The Film: 

Singles is a pretty decent little film. I say ‘little’ as it’s not one of those huge studio jobs involving comic book heros and arse-quaking explosions that are clogging up cinemas these days like so much backlogged faecal matter. No, it’s a charming film made for a modest budget ($9m), held in pretty strong regard amongst critics and fared pretty well at the box office ($19.5m) and has gone on to an even stronger after-life on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray etc.

An exploration of relationships in their bloom, chaos, flourish and collapse amongst a group of those young folks at the time called Gen X. It’s a solid and often funny film that was Cameron Crowe’s first step away from those teen-angst films such as Say Anything. It also happened to be set in Seattle, in 1992 with one of it’s characters, Cliff (Matt Dillon in a role that Crowe had tried to get Chris Cornell to play*), the singer of a grunge band – called Citizen Dick (which also featured Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Eddie Vedder) – and events play out against the backdrop of the then ascending Seattle music scene of which Crowe (formerly a writer for Rolling Stone) was a dedicated fan.

The Soundtrack:

So the soundtrack… it arrived a few months ahead of the film’s release and was a huge hit as these things go, going top ten and selling over two million copies. It featured new songs from Pearl Jam who were starting to break through, Alice in Chains’ ‘Would?’ made its debut on the album along with a song from Soundgarden and a Chris Cornell solo tune.

It served not just as an amazing primer to the city’s nascent music scene but features some great songs from non-Seattle bands such as Screaming Trees, Smashing Pumpkins and two absolute belters from Paul Westerberg only months after The Replacements had called it a day, ensuring, in its way, that these songs would not be shoe-boxed as ‘grunge’ but would be shown amongst the a much-wider alternative rock scene.

Noticeable by their absence among the other 3 of the Big 4 is Nirvana. Nevermind hadn’t dropped while Singles was in production and while musicians such as Ament and Cornell amongst others, were very involved in the film’s production (more to come), Kurt viewed ‘Hollywood’ as something to be steered very clear of. It’s also likely that Warner Bros – who would need to approve the soundtrack participants – didn’t see Nirvana at the time as a commercial viability. Oops. Still, they changed their mind on that front when, as studio politics and games meant the film suffered a delayed release by which time Nevermind had hit. So Warner Bros thought ‘let’s try and cash in’ and floated the idea of releasing the film under the name ‘Come As You Are’ instead. Even sending the band a copy of it to seek approval. Thankfully it never happened…

So, back to the soundtrack. It’s a killer selection of Seattle and Alt-Rock tunes, yes. But it’s not just a near-perfect mix-tape that I’ve damn-near worn out. The songs also fit the scenes they’re used in, too. As Campbell Scott’s Steve walks around Seattle it’s Cornells ‘Seasons’ that keeps him company and when he needs to let off steam he does so by going to Alice in Chains or Soundgarden shows and losing himself in the crowd.

Plus, according to Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History Of Grunge (a must-read), the royalties and monies received for being part of the soundtrack helped an awful lot of bands that never scaled those heights reached by Seattle’s Big Four, with some using the funds as mortgage down-payments. If I recall correctly, Mudhoney – who were late arriving to the soundtrack ‘party’ – recorded their song, ‘Overblown’, for a fraction of the pretty sizeable budget and kept the rest.

Touching back on that involvement for a second…. Three of Pearl Jam’s members featured as Matt Dillon’s Cliff’s band mates. At some point, however, they’ve ditched him and a deleted scene showed him giving it a go solo:

For a bit of authenticity Jeff Ament designed the Poncier tape. He added a handful of genuine-sounding song names to the label too*. Perhaps because he’d been unable to find time to play the role or simply because he was a nice bloke, Chris Cornell saw the list of songnames and took it upon himself to record a song for each of the titles. Of the Poncier Tape songs only ‘Seasons’** made the film and its soundtrack, initially.

Now though the Deluxe Reissue of the Singles soundtrack is with us. It collects those missing Poncier Tape songs (amongst which an early ‘Spoonman’ can be enjoyed) and couples them with a few other songs that didn’t make the cut the first time round to flesh out the included bands roster to bring in Truly and Blood Circus. For my money it’s not a bad set of additions but the single-disc will serve all brilliantly. That being said, Westerberg’s ‘missing’ songs are a welcome addition to my collection. Citizen Dick’s own ‘Touch Me I’m Dick’ isn’t what you’d call a highlight.

I’m running through a few Cameron Crowe films and their soundtracks in my head – Jerry Maguire (which made a hit of Springsteen’s ‘Secret Garden’), Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, even Elizabethtown which was itself a bit of a dud film had a stellar musical accompaniment – and it’s a safe bet to say that the man doesn’t make a bad one and really knows how to get just the right tune into the right place. Singles, his first attempt at a more serious film, is also a perfect example of that.

*All too often in ‘music’ films the song names or actors with musical instruments are as convincingly ‘real’ as a pair of tits on Baywatch.

**For those curious it’s FCFCCF

Fell On Black Days

Shocking news. Absolutely shocking news still coming in but; Chris Cornell, leading figure of the Seattle music scene, ‘grunge’ legend: July 20, 1964 – May 18, 2017.

25 Years of Alive

Blimey… 25 years?

Where does time go? Anyway, a quick share in between editing other posts: I’m loving this video that  Kevin Shuss (Pearl Jam’s videographer) put together to celebrate Pearl Jam’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (thoughts here).

Pearl Jam are right up there at the top of my Unimpeachables list (I ought to write that list down really). I’ve been listening to the Vs/Vitalogy box (and the live album included) in the car for the last week or so and given that I believe this era  represents peak Pearl Jam I was most definitely heartened by the band’s published response to the ‘drummer debacle’ that had been stirred by their induction*:

This brings three things to mind:
1. Just how many years I’ve been loving this band.
2. They are a decent bunch of guys really
3. It’s been three and a half years since Lightning Bolt! What the fuck, guys? Get your arses in the studio already ffs.

*Though I, and many, are certainly not impressed by their cropping out of former drummers when it comes to photos on social media etc.