From 1991 to 1995, Pearl Jam became “the biggest American rock band of the 90’s”. MTV Awards, sold out concerts, a triple play of platinum records (Ten, Vs, and Vitalogy), Rolling Stone covers, and Saturday Night Live appearances only heightened Pearl Jam’s meteoric rise. Then came the backlash. In 1995, the band led by Eddie Vedder took on Ticketmaster in an ugly media battle resulting in the band’s boycott of their services. Their resulting tour was tumultuous and when they went back in the studio to record their 4th album, “No Code”, there was a noticeable change in their vibe. Eddie was at times being described as a “control freak” by band members, guitarist Jeff Ament threatened to leave the band during the recording process, and a new drummer joined Pearl Jam. Overall, there just wasn’t the same energy this time around and the huge expectations became overwhelming in the studio.
“WHO YOU ARE”
For many bands, such internal strife may break up the band or result in a really bad album being released. Pearl Jam’s “No Code” still debuted at #1 on the Billboard Album chart but it was their first CD to not reach platinum status. Looking back to twenty years ago, how does “No Code” hold up today? The most obvious observation is that Pearl Jam took some experimental chances here and pushed their creative boundaries a little further. The CD kicked off with an aggressive speed metal track (Hail Hail) and concluded with a lullaby (Around The Bend). Between those polar opposite songs, Indian rhythms (Who Are You), spoken word tracks (I’m Open), and straight up punk rock (Lukin) songs all mixed together in one incoherent collection of random ideas. “No Code” definitely lacks a consistent theme or segue but taken as individual songs, there is a lot of great material here. Unfortunately when you have to live up to the reputation of “Ten” and “Vitalogy”, it became obvious “No Code” was a step backward for Pearl Jam.
“OFF HE GOES”
No Code‘s highlight is their soft and tender ballad “Off He Goes”, the second single which sounds like a lost Neil Young 70’s track. The lyrics capture the band’s mood of inconsistent friends who come and go out of your life. It was a fitting song for this transition period for Pearl Jam. Add in a great jam track, “In My Tree”, that allowed McCready and Ament to let loose and “Who Are You”, easily a Top 10 greatest Pearl Jam song nominee, and you’ve got some essential band favorites. On a side note, the CD cover and packaging was just as experimental. A giant eye ball surrounded by a triangle was created using a photomosiac of Polariod pictures including Dennis Rodman’s eye, Eddie’s foot, and some broken teeth. There was no plastic CD case, it was one of the first environmentally conscious efforts to use recyclable paper for the cover. This packaging idea didn’t take off and neither did the album overall. But just like the music, you’ve got to love the fact that Pearl Jam went for it and didn’t simply follow their formula and become just another “typical” rock band.
“HAIL HAIL” On David Letterman