Wednesday, March 24, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 109: Pearl Jam

When is a compilation of songs not a "best of"? When is making a double album instead of a single one excusable? When does a record with 30 songs somehow avoid an automatic downgrade? Answer: when it is this album.

Disc 109 is...Lost Dogs

Artist: Pearl Jam

Year of Release: 2003, but with music from 1991-2002.

How I Came To Know It: I am a big Pearl Jam fan, and when this came out I snapped it up.

How It Stacks Up: This is an odd album. It isn't a normal studio album, since it is a compilation of all the songs that didn't quite make Pearl Jam's albums over the years. At the same time, you can't call a bunch of previously unreleased songs a "best of", so I think this one is going to get a pass. And a grade. And a passing grade. Of my ten Pearl Jam albums, I'd say this one ranks about 6th - meaning a bunch of rejected songs piled together is superior to at least four of their other albums.

Rating: Lost Dogs is two discs. Disc one is a solid 4 stars. Disc Two is weaker, probably a solid 3 stars. However, Disc one is that much more solidly four, so I'm going to go with 4 stars overall.

I often speak in hyperbole when I am talking about Pearl Jam, which over the years has grown into one of my favourite bands.

"Lost Dogs" is a good example why. As I noted above, this is a record that is principally a bunch of tracks that for one reason or another did not make it onto their earlier albums. In addition there are a few "one offs" that the band did for benefit concerts or albums (like the "Music For Our Mother Ocean" series).

Given the quality of the material here, it is hard to understand how these songs ever got left of, until you remember the strength of the tracks that were initially included.

This two volume set has 30 songs, which is too many by far, admittedly. I am giving this excess a rare pass this time for two reasons.

Firstly, this album is about songs that got left off of previous albums. It seems equally excessive to do that to some of them twice. Who knows what self-destructive behaviour these songs would turn to if they were rejected again? Even the runts of this litter deserve a chance.

Secondly, despite the size of the litter, there aren't many runts in here. There is easily 15 tracks equal to anything the band has done elsewhere, maybe as many as 20.

I also appreciate how the liner notes for these tracks are laid out. A little background for each song. Nothing excessive, sometimes describing the sound or the inspiration, and sometimes discussing how they ended up getting cut. The notes also indicate which specific album each song was rejected from - allowing you to compare them with what did make it.

I was particularly interested to see what was left off some of Pearl Jam's weaker albums, like "No Code" or "Binaural". Songs like "All Night", "Education" and "Black, Red, Yellow" are flat out better than some of the content that made it on.

I recently made a double album of my own "best of" Pearl Jam (I am old-school "mixed CD" kind of guy). At the final cut, five "Lost Dogs" actually made the list, compared with two songs from "No Code" and only a single track from "Binaural" (Ironically, the single track was "Insignificance").

Other highlights include the remake of "Gremmie Out of Control" which is a surfer-guitar track. When I first heard it, I thought it was about a guy driving a Gremlin - then I learned that a Gremmie is a surf-term for a doofus surfer who is never welcome at the beach. As the song says,

"His board is always full of dings
'cause he's always doing stupid things."

I also dig the mournful, yearning tone of "Yellow Ledbetter." A song where I still have no idea what is going on, despite repeated listens. Looking in my handy liner notes I read the following from Mike McCready:

"Eddie started making up words on the spot and we kept them. I still don't know what it's about and I don't want to!"

Umm...unhelpful, Mike.

And although not musically one of my favourites, I love this line from "Whale Song"

"They won't fight back - I'm sure they know how."

To me, that's a pretty good sum up of whales. We're shocked when they kill someone - Pearl Jam points out that we should be shocked when they don't.

Anyway, I'm glad most of these lost dogs - and whales - found their way unharmed to my CD shelf. They'll get plenty of play time to make up for all those years unloved.

Best tracks: All Night, Down, Alone, Education, Black Red Yellow, Gremmie Out of Control, Hold On, Yellow Ledbetter, Dirty Frank

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