Review Summary: This album could probably put you to sleep, but its not supposed to wake you up. Its simply Eddie Vedder enjoying himself, kicking back, and humming to the relaxing nature of the Ukulele.
When I bought Pearl Jam’s most recent album, Backspacer, to me it was overly evident that the band had drifted not just far from their original grandeur, which was clear over the past ten years, but very far. Eddie’s voice hit me more obviously than ever before as completely burned out; its brashness no longer holding any authority over the listener. While most of his voice’s stunning, bellowing beauty had faded over the years, it appeared to me on Backspacer to be practically gone and irrelevant. However, when I heard about Ukulele Songs, I was still intrigued. The two songs of Vedder playing the Ukulele already released, “Soon Forget” from Binaural and “Rise” from the Into The Wild Soundtrack, are two of my favorites. To my enjoyment, Ukulele Songs actually follows nicely in the footsteps of his previous Ukulele experiments. While his voice is still nothing close to its former glory, the new Vedder finds a good fit among the quiet strum of this little instrument.
On the album, Eddie is not trying to impress anyone artistically. There are no surprises; these are (as labeled) simply songs on the Ukulele. While this may be a drawback and the album could easily be labeled as boring and redundant (god he plays the ukulele on all 16 songs!), the mood is meant to be relaxing and effortless which is certainly achieved. The record has more tracks than expected, but they all move fast (usually well under three minutes). Eddie’s soft and sincere voice seems to float and carry you from one song to the next. Not every song is memorable but here and there, certain effects are added to make some stand out. A cello beautifully compliments the reflecting melody of “Longing to Belong”, and “Tonight You Belong To Me” (not written by Vedder but is a cover of a 1920s pop song) features Cat Power who carefully backs up Eddie to make a highlight of the album. These kind of touches work well in adding to the songs and keeping the listener interested. The opener, “Can’t Keep” stands out also as the only hint of Pearl Jam aggressiveness as it is a Ukulele version of a Pearl Jam song. In the end, it’s still hard to make out most of the songs from each other and some could easily be thrown out as generic. Still, Vedder pours his emotion into each one with passionate, lovely lyrics, again proving himself to be a talented songwriter.
There is not a lot to Ukulele Songs and its not overly impressive, but somehow Eddie Vedder shows us how he can still be effectively sentimental and emotional no matter the setting or his instrument of choice. Yes, this album could probably put you to sleep, but its not supposed to wake you up. It’s simply Eddie enjoying himself, kicking back, and humming to the relaxing nature of the Ukulele.