Review Summary: Pearl Jam eschew the art-rock influences of Vitalogy and No Code in favour of a more slow-burning, introspective record.
"There's nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world."
- Thus spake Ishmael, the wise and more human-than-a-human gorilla/hero of Daniel Quinn's novel of the same name, a tome so inextricably linked with Yield that it seems woven into the notes and words themselves. Anyone familiar with Pearl Jam's pre-Yield work will be aware that the band were not one to live in accord with the world. Rather, Messrs Vedder, Gossard et al were seemingly content to alienate fans and critics alike with albums that became exponentially more arty and devoid of the classic rock sound that brought them more shifted units than any of their contempories. The fact that these records were all excellent in their own way meant little for a large portion of the 15 million or so people that bought Ten.
Thankfully, with Yield, Pearl Jam learnt to accept themselves, to finally find the peace in themselves to release a record that not only tolerated the world around them but embraced it. That's not to say that there are no tricky moments on the album - bassist Jeff Ament's biblically paraphrastic ode to his dog, "Pilate" and Jack Iron's neo-tribal 1:06 of limelight-hogging exercise in rhythmic catharsis, complete with an unpronounceable name (a red dot), both stand out as moments that are best enjoyed when feeling either supremely relaxed after a swedish massage or with the brain psychotropically affected. Take your pick.
More encouraging are the various highlights that make the album Pearl Jam's most consistent, if not their best, offering. Militant fans of the record proclaim it to be the best representation of the band's musical intentions and it certainly contains several tracks that remain live staples to this day. The light-hearted but still heart-rending warmth of 'Wishlist' transfers much better to 20,000 fans in Madison Square Garden who hang on Vedder's every word than it does to record but it still sticks out as one of the most easily enjoyable songs in the band's catalogue. Lines like "I wish I was the evidence, I wish I was the sound of 15 million hands up raised and opened towards the sky" are a good example of the kind of quasi-New Age love 'n' peace that those navel-gazing, moody bastards from Seattle started professing in 1998.
None of this is to say, however, that the band lost their knack for penning more contemplative, introspective songs. Tucked in between miasmic rockers like Brain of J. and Do The Evolution are the fantastic 'Given To Fly', replete with a wonderfully catchy Mike McCready guitar riff and some of Vedder's most impressive lyrical work and the Jeff Ament-penned 'Low Light', a lovely, lilting ballad that secures the bassist's spot as one of the more underrated songwriters in the band. The song is indicative of the soul-searching nature of the record with lines like
"Clouds roll by
Reeling is what they say
Or is it just my way?
Wind blows by,
Sidetracked, low light
Can't see my tracks,
Your scent-way back"
An interesting thing to note with this album as well is the evolution in the band's sound. In fact, the whole theme of the album is evolution and it is greatly evident. Gone are the days of Rick Parashar's reverb soaked stadium production of Pearl Jam's debut, Ten, but also the raw, garage rock sound of the previous two albums, Vitalogy and No Code have been replaced with a more polished but, crucially, not over-produced sound courtesy of Brendan O'Brien. This smoother tonality to the music adds greatly to the atmosphere of Yield which is by and large more relaxing and accessible than anything the band had released in recent years. This is as much an album to be listened to with headphones as 2000's Binaural, famed for it's unusual use of stereo recording.
Ultimately, Yield is not Pearl Jam's best offering in my opinion. For me, that title goes to Vitalogy, a record as different from Yield as you could possibly find. Having said that, this is by far Pearl Jam's most enjoyable
album. Even the more experimental tracks such as 'Push Me, Pull Me', a truly bizarre spoken word poem set to a spastic bass riff and arbitrary drum rhythms are rendered listenable in the context of the album, something that not even Vitalogy managed. Definitely an important step in the band's evolution.
Highlights include -
Given To Fly