[B]'Binaural'[/B] burns with the intensity and desperation of a last stand...
They return, at a time when the world is dominated by trashy frat-punks and schlock-metal bozos, a moment when rock seems to have been stripped of any resonance beyond serving as the facile soundtrack for the high-jinks of beer-sodden jocks. Grunge’s last men standing, and perhaps the only band of their size and calibre bringing the passion, intensity, and integrity of their underground roots to the mainstream. You could say we [I]need[/I] this album.
It’s almost ten years since [a]Pearl Jam[/a] released their debut album ‘Ten’, and the playground jibes of closet Van Halen fandom that greeted it have been replaced by a growing respect for the band’s pointed refusal to allow the bullshit of the music industry to dilute their music. With [a]Pearl Jam[/a]’s noose-tight control of their career (no videos, precious few interviews, not touring to death), it’s as if the band have cocooned themselves from the nefarious influences of an industry seemingly out to render banal and meaningless (and saleable) anything of worth.
This is no doubt why ‘Binaural’ sounds so gloriously out of time. It’s a seething, furious album; a declamatory statement against cynicism and passivity and the simple injustices of everyday life. Within its 14 tracks, ‘Binaural’ sees Eddie Vedder rage against collateral damage (the blistering ‘Insignificance’), conformity (the jerky post-punk splatter of ‘Grievance’), the randomness of tragedy (‘God’s Dice’). Even when the band slow the pace, the songs are coloured by a heartfelt intensity; the palpable loss of the painfully beautiful ‘Light Years’, or the acrid dark-hearted humour of the slight ‘Soon Forget’, for example. This is [I]not[/I] the work of a band playing just to pay off the mortgage on their Bel Air mansion.
Tellingly, ‘Binaural’ continues the musical progression flagged by ’96’s ‘No Code’, a post-hardcore reading of classic rock that has coursed through their music since the twin-guitar nirvana of their debut single, ‘Alive’. Indeed, opener ‘Breakerfall’ is a note-perfect aural fantasy of The Who demolishing The Byrds‘ 12-string prettiness as Vedder howls delectably Neil Young-esque lyrics above. But [a]Pearl Jam[/a] aren’t hopeless retro-anoraks like, say, Ocean Colour Scene; ‘Binaural’ might recall, at different moments, The Clash, Dylan, MC5, Springsteen, Fugazi and, of course, Neil Young, but the band’s affinity with the [I]spirit[/I] of these forbears, as well as their music, marks them out as fellow travellers, as opposed to copyists.
There’s a palpable fire in the belly of ‘Binaural’, employing the language of rock with a keener venom, a more lucid eloquence than any radio-friendly unit-shifter since, well, the last time [a]Pearl Jam[/a] released a record. An object lesson in rock’n’roll from some true believers, ‘Binaural’ burns with the intensity and desperation of a last stand. Which it might very well be.