Noah Berlatsky is none too impressed with “Pearl Jam 20“:
Rock these days is mostly relevant as self-parody. Or at least, it’s hard to escape that conclusion after watching Cameron Crowe’s “Pearl Jam 20.” The film is much like the music of the band it documents – lumbering, shapeless and irritatingly reminiscent of many other things you didn’t like all that much.
And it gets better.
I haven’t seen the doc, though I might if it ever ends up on Netflix. I was a fan of Pearl Jam: Ten was one of the first CDs I ever owned (along with Use Your Illusion I & II), and I wore the ever living shit out of that disc. Their video for “Evenflow” blew me away while on constant rotation in MTV’s BuzzBin, while “Jeremy” totally freaked me out for a while until it became tired and overplayed. I even wrote a short story for Grade 12 English inspired by “Daughter”, which in retrospect ended up being a creepy yet cliched tale of incest and abuse which netted me a banal ‘B’. Alas.
Then band started getting all “political” and shit, which turned me off. Not so much because I disagreed with them, though I usually did, but more because they were so fracking unoriginal. (I did appreciate their selling their concert tapes in stores, though. I enjoy bootlegs as much as the next fan, but these live recordings were at such a higher quality than most bootlegs I had been able to track down. So good on them for that.)
But I still soured on them, slowly but continuously, until I got to the point that I didn’t even care about them. I first recognized this when I caught their show in Calgary a few years back. My buddies were pumped, pumped, pumped about it, and I figured, yeah, this should be good. But the concert bored the hell out of me. They sounded great and they had energy, but I realized that their songs were utterly humourless and depressing. Not Elliott-Smith-so-depressing-it’s-beautiful depressing. Just bleh depressing, and without a trace of self-deprecation.
Berlatsky touches on it in his review:
There’s nothing to do but cover your eyes in horror as frontman Eddie Vedder explains, without a hint of irony, that he writes dark songs because “my emotions are like a quarter flipped in the air.” Nor is there any escape from the horror as you watch the band members steer helpless anecdote after helpless anecdote into dank, blind alleys, there to be gruesomely and pointlessly bludgeoned to death.
I haven’t even seen the documentary and I could’ve predicted this outcome.
They’re a great band, and they’ve come up with some terrific riffs and quality recordings. However, because of their over-earnest preening and postering, they somehow lost me in the past 20 years.
In the Rolling Stone following Kurt Cobain’s suicide, a letter writer made a comment along the lines of “The wrong guy killed himself, eh Eddie?” I was a big PJ fan at the time, but that heartless comment spoke the cynical truth. Cobain was a fucked up junkie whose penchant for heroin was overshadowed by his taste in women, but no one could deny he had a wry sense of humour. His lyrics touched on the poignant, ironic humanism, and illustrated it on a template of grunge punk laced with pop sensibility (the latter thanks to drummer Dave Grohl).
Vedder, on the other hand, epitomized 1990s progressive thought. At times, it almost seemed his band consulted with Hillary’s focus groups on their cause du jour. They might be political, but they’re not risky, and hardly original. Worst of all, they lacked Cobain’s humanity, which is why the latter’s image will long outlast the former’s smug self-righteousness.
But again I’ll watch PJ 20 if I come across it. There’s nothing wrong with reflecting on past memories, even if they turn out misguided in retrospect.