Review Summary: Like a car with a near-dead battery, No Code sputters and slowly moves ahead, but never properly gets going.
By the time of 1996, grunge was more or less dead in the eyes of the mainstream. Kurt Cobain had died, Alice in Chains
had faded into obscurity, and the first wave of post-grunge was on the rise. Pearl Jam was among the last major grunge acts left by 1996, and they decided that it was time for a change. They wrote and recorded the album No Code
, and in the process experimented with art rock and worldbeat.
Due to the fact that No Code
is looked upon by many as Pearl Jam's lowest point, one might expect the album to be lacking creativity. However, this is one credit that can be given to the album. One will know that they will be in for a different experience when album opener "Sometimes" rears its head. Rather than a blazing and fast-paced opening track such as those from their first three albums, it is instead a melancholy ballad. While No Code
is, without a doubt, a Pearl Jam album, it sounds notably different from all their records both before and since. The band does a good job incorporating the new worldbeat elements into their sound, and thus, the problem lies not within the level of creativity, or the overall sound.
's problem is that, while there is nothing particularly bad about it, there is nothing particularly good about it either. Most of the songs have nothing that grabs your attention, either good or bad. Like a car with a near-dead battery, it sputters and slowly moves ahead, but never properly gets going. The band clearly has good ideas, and has done their best to execute them, but they still lack that one essential quality.
Even the two apparent exceptions to this rule don't do very much in the album's service. The track "Mankind" is notable due to the fact that for once Eddie Vedder steps down from the microphone and lets guitarist Stone Gossard temporarily take his place. Gossard's vocal work is perfectly passable, but lacks the distinctiveness and charm of Vedder's voice. The other exception "I'm Open" stands out because the verses are spoken rather than sung. As the only true highlight, "I'm Open" is the best track on the album, but is still not nearly enough to rescue the rest of No Code
from being forgotten after several listens.
While No Code
's experimental nature must be applauded, it is still quite unremarkable. Besides two tracks, it fails to arouse any interest, and simply sputters along for fifty minuets. It will fail to impress anyone who doesn't have "PJ" tattooed on them, and for anyone else, your time would best be spent elsewhere.