Thursday, April 7, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 260: Eddie Vedder

I am super busy these days, and the blog is experiencing some fits and starts - I promise that this is a temporary condition.

As a result I finished this album yesterday, but only got to reviewing it today. I even slipped a little new music purchase in between - I've got a lot of new music to listen to these days and I'm feeling the need to hear it (it was Stan Rogers' "Northwest Passage" by the way. An excellent record - but I'll review it when I roll it).

Disc 260 is...Into the Wild (Soundtrack) Artist: Eddie Vedder

Year of Release: 2007

What’s Up With The Cover?: This is a soundtrack to the movie of the same name, so I think this is a picture from the movie. Three things come to mind with this picture. First, the Fairbanks City Transit System is not well represented. Second, that I see this particular ride provides an in-transit meal (it looks like baked beans). Third, the gentleman on the roof is likely going to be asked to take his seat, since I'm pretty sure "I'll just ride on the roof with my sleeping bag n' stuff" is not an option.

How I Came To Know It: I've done seventeen soundtrack reviews already, but this one is an anomaly; I did not discover this soundtrack through the movie. In fact, unlike every other soundtrack I own - I've never even seen the movie. I got this because it is by one of my favourite artists, and it was well reviewed by others that had it (I think my friend Chris might've put me on to this one, but apologies if it was someone else - desperately lurking on my blog for a shout out).

How It Stacks Up: This is the only Eddie Vedder album I have - although I'm told he's about to release a second solo album - featuring the ukelele. I am oddly excited at this news. As for soundtracks, this is one of my better ones. I'd say somewhere between 6th and 10th out of about 23, depending on my mood.

Rating: 3 stars, but when I first bought it I probably thought it was a 4, but I was temporarily blinded by a couple of incredible tracks.

As you know if you have not been living under a rock, or in a world without power, Eddie Vedder is the front man to the band Pearl Jam - one of my favourite bands. This is both his solo effort, and also the soundtrack to some movie called "Into The Wild", which was a big deal four years ago, but which I remember very little about now.

To my recollection it is a movie based on a journal found of a young man who left his life behind and lived in the wild, freeing himself from society's trappings.

The film never really appealed to me, but since I haven't seen it (or read the book) I am the wrong person to ask. Go ask five people who've seen it and average their answers out, then rent it if it hits three stars. Or just go to one friend you trust.

Since I can't help you with the movie, let's focus on the record, which is very good. Other than Vedder's unmistakeable vibratto it is very unlike Pearl Jam, so don't expect to rock out. It is a quiet record that borders on folk music.

There are a couple of songs on here that are brilliant - "Rise" and "Society." Both are songs that vocalize severe isolation (I expect a common theme in a movie about someone leaving civilization behind).

They handle this theme very differently, however. "Rise" is a song about setting forth into the unknown, and how unburdening this can feel. It is just Vedder's voice and a ukulele (the shape of things to come, it would seem). The ukulele's high range makes you feel lifted and when Vedder sings:

"Gonna rise up
Find my direction magnetically."

He makes you feel like this is possible without a compass - as though if you just set forth unfettered with society's cares, you'll get there. (Disclaimer: When going 'into the wild' bring a compass - the 'wandering unfettered with society's cares' system is exceedingly unreliable).

While "Rise" makes everything about isolation feel freeing, "Society" is much darker. Equally sparse, but with the ukulele replaced with an acoustic guitar, strummed low. It is a song about estrangement with society. It is the view of civilization as something to reject.

It is a song that sees none of the advantages of modern life, but only the excess consumerism. This is a common theme for Vedder's life, and there are many stories of his anti-establishment sentiments. While I think he takes living the simple life a little too far, there is no denying the power of this song. The chorus sums it up for him:

You're a crazy breed
Hope you're not lonely
Without me."

It is a bitter sweet song that is ultimately a fairly traditional break up song, where the singer is breaking up with modern life itself. Just like you can miss your ex-girl, and wish her well, but there's also all that hurt and old argument that creates a big mess of conflicting emotion. If those tormented feelings about your ex-girl, was instead about 'everything' you'd have this song.

That said, "Into The Wild" is not five star stuff throughout. Mostly, it suffers from being a score as much as a soundtrack, with many short tracks likely used for similarly short scenes in the film. There are ideas here that sound promising, but don't take the time to develop. The album clocks in at only thirty three minutes - usually a positive, but here it left me wanting more.

I find myself hoping that Vedder will explore some of the musical themes from "Into the Wild" on his next solo venture. This record felt a little incomplete. In places, this sparseness makes it better, but in places it feels like it needs to be put back in the oven for 30 more minutes. Over all, a thoughful and enjoyable record, but because of the unevenness, I can't go about 3 - although I wanted to.

Best tracks: Rise Up, Society

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