December 2, 2004

Split-Brain Nostalgia

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With their recent best-of release, rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits 1991-2003), Pearl Jam has joined the long list of other rock bands that have bared their musical repertoire to the tests of history, rock-aficionados and Christmas-sales lists everywhere. The band presents its strongest songs from over a decade of work, spanning from the always refreshing opening chords of “Alive” and “Even Flow” off of what is perhaps their only perennial work, Ten, to the musical explorations of their more recent Riot Act and Binaural. In the process, the band hopes to appease their rabidly loyal fan-base and Pearl Jam neophytes everywhere — not the easiest of tasks to complete.

The greatest hits are presented chronologically across an album that spans two CDs — only with a slight catch; the songs are categorized to one disc or another based off of the tone or mood of the song. This produces an “upside” and a “downside” — the “upside” contains all of the rockers, while the “downside” presents the band’s more melodramatic brooders.

Such an arrangement is surprisingly not as awkward as it would otherwise seem, and one soon enjoys the fact that they don’t have to listen to the blistering “Do The Evolution” immediately after get-out-the-lighter songs like cult-favorite “Yellow Ledbetter” or “Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town.” Not only does this setup categorize the group’s work into an interesting dichotomy for long-time fans to appreciate, but it also makes the myriad faces of Pearl Jam more accessible to the average listener.

Of the two CDs, the downside outplays the upside, in that it really convinces the listener of Eddie Vedder’s status as one of rock-music’s truly convincing and emotive storytellers. In this light, even their radio-friendly cover of “Last Kiss” doesn’t sound as bad as it once did. This is not to discount the upside, which presents the entire band at its stormy yet melodic best. Taken together, one is able to gain a fairly complete and satisfying history of one of the best rock bands of the past 14 years.

Longtime Pearl Jam devotees will rightfully ask what the point of this release was besides to sell more records. After all, one should only have to purchase one of their innumerable live-CDs. But the band obviously has aspirations to appease their more casual-followers here, and this release does just that. For most kids of our generation, this album should prove to be a nostalgic trip-down memory lane.

And suddenly we are running upstairs, slamming doors, locking ourselves in teenage bedrooms, suppressed tears and fathers knocking on doors and raising voices. But we don’t care — our reflections are so big, bold and radiating that no one will ever be able to relate to — Except for Eddie Vedder.

Archived article by Matthew Nagowski
Sun Staff Writer