Pearl Jam - Yield

JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS, AN advance cassette of this here record ambled its way on to the NME stereo. Now, in years gone by, we would have snorted heartily and, with a cool London strut, expected little more from those damn Pearl Jammers than a wailing squidge of bombastic sound, not unlike a rather miserable walrus moping around in a mudbath.

This, however, was the tail end of 1997: 12 months before PJ had thoroughly rocked our proverbial boat at Wem-ber-lee Arena, and 'Yield', it was wildly announced, was "The most innovative album of the year!" And it wasn't even out yet! Now, a full three-and-a-half weeks on from that epochal listening session, a new question has been raised: can 'Yield' live up to its seasonal reputation and stand tall as The Most Innovative Album of '98?

Already much has been made of the title of this, Pearl Jam's fifth album. Sticking stringently to the cliché, 'If you can't cut their knackers off with a potato knife, bloody well join 'em,' we should like to take this opportunity to nod wisely and, just like everyone else, decree that with this record Pearl Jam have indeed 'borne fruit' and simultaneously 'relaxed' some of their previous po-faced principles.

'Yield' is a long-playing record. It has been preceded by a single track, 'Given To Fly', which has done extremely normal things like become NME Single Of The Week and sneak on to the Xfm playlist. Neither 'Yield' nor 'Given To Fly' is a limited-edition release designed specifically for a Bank Holiday afternoon in Botswana, made solely of hemp or even destroyed the day before release. In fact, excepting the thrillions of bootlegs inspired by 'Yield''s recent appearance on the Internet and the fact that track eight appears not to have a title of any description (Complete silence! Yeah! The dysfunctional generation is among us!), Pearl Jam are taking the extremely unusual step of behaving like A Normal Band. Ha! "Get your orthodox rocks off!" as one Mister Gillespie might say.

More pertinently, 'Yield' could very well nearly be described as A Loud Pop Album, albeit one made by stinkingly famous personalities. After years of pseudo-grunge grindings and/or cosmic hippy blatherings often delivered with all the social skills of a paranoid skunk, Pearl Jam have finally ended up here.

Where's here? Well, here is where Eddie Vedder is caught singing, "I'm through with screaming" ('Faithful'). Here's where Pearl Jam put on their diverse boots and stomp across their bluesy roots, careering through various styles and pop-mungous strops. Here's where 'Push Me Pull' sounds precisely like David Bowie circa 'Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)'. Uh-huh.

There is a curious dichotomy at work here. Just as U2's marvellous live show flicks between showbiz overload for the new (not quite tuneful) songs and stripped-down simplicity for the old singalongs, so 'Yield' reveals two very specific sides to its character. The first is where we find Vedder in vague mode, concealing his words beneath a barrage of guitars and loose-hipped rhythms to such an extent that on more than one occasion (see the rough'n'tumble drama of 'Brain Of J', the defiantly clanking 'Pilate') you'll swear all you can hear is, "Grunt groan angel grrrr grunt wings arrroooogh groan". 'Do The Evolution', meanwhile, is so flippin' indecipherable and garage-tastic it sounds like it was recorded under the auspices of Billy Childish at Toerag Studios.

Bearing in mind the inherent ability of America's youth to, like, y'know, relate to Vedder's most mumbled muse it occurs that here we have a case of a band who say Everything by saying absolutely Nothing - surely a clear example of The Emperor's New Lyric Sheet. Certainly, if Ed's more religion-oriented pronouncements in the recent NME interview erred on the side of baffling, there is little on 'Yield' that is likely to be stupendously enlightening.

On the other paw, there are times when clarity is apparently Eddie Vedder's middle name. If the title 'In Hiding' doesn't give it away, the words sure as hell do, as the Jammies give us a quite-literally-heart-wrenching tale of becoming so blitheringly famous that one cannot even step outside one's front door for fear of, oh, I dunno, tripping over fainting fans or something. It sounds like it fell off that great tribute to all rawk things fat-arsed and bloated, Pink Floyd's 'The Wall'. So much so, in fact, that perhaps Vedder should have stuck to, "Grunt groan blinding arrooogh light nnnng", so we'd have all gone, "Mmmm! Enigmatic! With a side order of spirituality to go!"

'Low Light' is fundamentally a Stoolrock moment courtesy of the pen of bassist Jeff Ament, wherein Vedder asks, "Can I be here all alone?" and that distant sizzling effect is the sound of Mark Eitzel seething as Pearl Jam soothe. The song henceforth referred to as 'Track Eight' is fundamentally a daft bugger Foolrock moment courtesy of drummer Jack Irons and some steel drums. And 'Wish List' brings us back to the point, which is that Vedder can articulate when he bally well feels like it.

And so he sings stuff like, "I wish I was a neutron bomb/For once I could go off... I wish I was fortunate/As fortunate as me... I wish I was the souvenir you kept your house keys on", and he is pithy and funny and he writes like BabyBird and he sounds - quite remarkably - like Bruce Springsteen. Which, when you actually think about it, isn't remarkable at all.

Because Pearl Jam, like Brooooce, are grizzly touring troubadours au fait with both bar-room bawl and national superbowl crawl. Because Pearl Jam, like Brooooce, carry the burden for various moral mindfields atop their broad, hardworking shoulders. Because Pearl Jam, like Broooooooce, make big, mountain-straddling rock noises with absolutely no detriment to their more sensitive sides. And because both Brucie and the Jamsters consistently make pretty good music with the odd piss-awful aberration.

"It's no crime to escape," wails El Vedster, in one of his moments of lucidity. No sirree. Pearl Jam? They were born to run... 7/10

Simon Williams