REWIND: The last great Pearl Jam album was released 20 years ago this month 2 years ago

REWIND: The last great Pearl Jam album was released 20 years ago this month

It's hard out there for grunge fans.

Or lapsed fans, as this writer's case may be.

Brave is the soul who dares to place Pearl Jam above the likes of Nirvana, Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins et al in the pub debate, knowing that you'll probably never be taken seriously ever again.

And yet you trudge on, singing the praises of Eddie Vedder and company, safe in the knowledge that you've made the right choice.

And then you go back to the enduring Seattle outfit many years later and wonder what all the fuss was about.

They're a band that attract a huge amount of noise, and some of the most committed fans in the game. Pearl Jam is a sacred church for a great many, one where fellow disciples are bathed in light and heathens are cast out.

A flawed frontman stands at the pulpit, his sermons tattered and torn, laced with human frailties and the promise of something bigger, greater.

Pearl Jam continue to inspire strict devotion even in 2018.

You might know a 'one club man' or two, the die-hard who has no room for anyone else beyond all those dog-eared bootleg live records that squeeze together on the kind of crooked shelf you expect to find as a tiny, world-weary detail in one of Vedder's many ramblings.

All of which makes such pub debates and extreme loyalty all the stranger, when you consider that Pearl Jam haven't released a truly great start-to-finish album in 20 years.

Yield is that last hurrah.

Pearl Jam Yield

No, it's not Binaural, because the pieces don't quite form the whole there.

It's not Riot Act, because three good songs ('Love Boat Captain', 'I Am Mine', 'Ghost') do not a great album make.

And it's not the 2006 self-titled effort, despite containing one of the best PJ moments in the entire canon - 'Come Back' - nor the front-loaded Backspacer, nor whatever the hell Lightning Bolt is meant to be.

It's Yield.

Deal with it.

Backstory

Released on 3 February, 1998, Pearl Jam's fifth studio album served up a radio-friendly distillation of the band's most accessible material up until that point.

While previous albums No Code and Vitalogy proved more artful, challenging efforts for many who were ensnared by the rock heroics of Ten and Vs., Yield opted to play things comparatively safer with a back-to-basics approach and a notable team effort as Vedder, er, yielded some editorial control to his cohorts.

That might not sound terribly newsworthy but if you've read Five Against One; Rolling Stone writer Kim Neely's tell-all account of Pearl Jam's early days and rise to stardom, you'll know that Eddie Vedder doesn't suffer fools gladly and was a rather difficult character to work with, and that's putting it mildly.

"The songs were a little bit more structured," remarked guitarist Stone Gossard when in conversation with Total Guitar magazine in 2002. "I don't know if it was poppier, but it seemed more professional."

His summary of Yield is spot-on; an album that absolutely ticks those boxes while narrowly avoiding becoming a box-ticking exercise in and of itself.

Top Five

1. 'Given to Fly'

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=satY_ofTNo4

Clip via PearlJamVEVO

The first port of call on your go-to Pearl Jam playlist for anyone looking to dip a toe.

Instantly accessible and wholly evocative of the band's larger-than-life Americana spirit, 'Given to Fly' meets its title in considerable earnest, soaring all the while thanks to the strength of one of Vedder's most memorable vocal turns.

2. 'Brain of J.'

Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't deny that Pearl Jam excel at good old-fashioned, straight-up rock and roll.

Yield's conspiracy theory-addled opener is brimming with energy, a pulse-quickening shot of glamour that Binaural would mirror with the great 'Breakerfall' two years later.

'Brain of J.' is maybe the sharper cut in that photo-finish, and quintessential Pearl Jam to boot; fast, fearless and effectively strange.

3. 'No Way'

In which the studio nous of long-term PJ producer Brendan O'Brien comes to the fore.

Yield would mark O'Brien's final partnership with the band until his return on 2009's Backspacer, but he made his presence felt behind the desk here.

'No Way' is a patient, driving number that sounds positively gigantic as its individual parts are raised skyward on the kind of searching, on-the-road journey conjured up by the album's artwork.

4. 'Do the Evolution'

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDaOgu2CQtI

Clip via PearlJamVEVO

Pearl Jam acolytes will no doubt argue that 'Do the Evolution' should be much higher on this list, but then that's Pearl Jam acolytes for you.

Be honest guys, from the hey-we-get-it-Eddie introduction of the choir to the Kevin Altieri/Todd McFarlane-directed Really Makes You Think video, it all borders on being a wee bit cringeworthy.

That said, a banger is a banger and 'Do the Evolution' ultimately wins the day thanks to a great guitar riff, a knowing wink-and-nudge tone, and a particularly feverish turn from Vedder in the vocal booth.

5. 'Wishlist'

And so to the more sensitive and introspective side of the man born Edward Louis Severson.

'Wishlist' keeps it simple as its leading man spells out his hopes and dreams, his fears and insecurities, his flaws and failings, his dreams and desires.

The song is relatively unremarkable because that's precisely what it needs to be. 'Wishlist' comes to feel like the half-remembered grains of a dream you can't fully return to, and works wonderfully as an early interlude of sorts.

Which makes actual interlude 'Red Bar' feel all the more pointless and out of place a few minutes later, so maybe just skip that one when it arrives.

Legacy

Well, it's the last great Pearl Jam album, innit?

You may disagree with the above, but Yield represents Pearl Jam at a critically interesting time, for better and for worse.

On the one hand, you have an album that successfully harnesses the band's stadium-sized ambitions and songwriting prowess, resulting in a clutch of Greatest Hits-worthy material that holds up today.

On the other, there's the argument that Yield is the sound of a previously fierce, somewhat independent act throwing in the towel and not only accepting their lot as a mainstream rock juggernaut, but deliberately playing to an increasingly large gallery.

That's fine, and it's just smart business. Pearl Jam might have fought the power once, but they were never really Fugazi, just an independent-minded animal that eventually realised they were more content performing for applause in the zoo.

Yield is the record where Pearl Jam put up a road sign, yet began to lose their way.

But hey, if they didn't, we never would have wound up with this incredible photograph of Mike McCready and the Mariner Moose rocking out after playing the American national anthem in front of a half-full baseball stadium:

Pearl Jam

It's the little things.