A Reflection on ‘No Code’ by Pearl Jam

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Early in December 1996 I heard Hail Hail on the radio and I was hooked. I’d heard them before and not paid attention (Daughter) or been very disinterested (Jeremy, still one of my least favourite Pearl Jam songs for reasons I can’t fully formulate) but something about this song grabbed me, the punk riff, the vocal delivery, the energy…yes please. The family was given a $30 voucher for Soundworld in the mall for Christmas that year and mum let me use it to buy No Code. She could have given that voucher to any of the four boys, but I like to think she sensed the others would only use it to buy some cd, I was going to make an investment with this purchase.

I was all of 13 at the time and transitioning from listening to stuff like Hootie & the Blowfish, and whatever commercial crap caught my ears. Soon I was walking around the house air guitaring along with Mike McCready and Stone Gossard as I indoctrinated the family into the Pearl Jam catalogue, purchased almost immediately in quick succession with my first disposable income. Mum got me a guitar that year for my birthday because of the constant air guitaring. I ordered literally every Pearl Jam release Soundworld had in their huge clip folder catalogue and soon had a healthy collection of singles and obscure b-sides (remember before the internet really took off and songs were rare to hear? Moonpies? What a time to be alive.)

The album remains in my top five albums of all time, if not at number one always sitting very close to it (it’s a constantly shifting list really!), and to this day it thrills me from start to finish. I got to see Eddie Vedder play at the beautiful Civic Theatre in Newcastle on his last solo tour and he opened his show with album opener Sometimes which was an amazing thrill. I have a feeling Who You Are will be played at my funeral (the first vinyl I ever bought, the 7 inch picked up at Sanity in the Newcastle mall back when they even stocked obscurities like that), Smile may well be the best blues Pearl Jam ever played (sorry Yellow Ledbetter) and Off He Goes evokes memories of drunkenly singing the song with a friend I really don’t see enough, a great Vedder track and again one he played at Newcastle in that intimate theatre, his warmth and character along with songs like this reducing the size of the venue to the palm of his hand.

My strongest memories of the album are tied to the song Red Mosquito. I have vivid memories of the rest of the family probably off having fun in the water on our Easter holiday to Woolgoolga while I lay on the double bed in the main bedroom of the cabin at the caravan park listening to this song on my headphones. The guitar riff that dominates this song is so searingly awesome because of that beautiful tone McCready gets on it, and the way he soulfully adds different colours and feels to it each time it comes around, making it the living breathing embodiment of the song title it’s meant to evoke. Eddie’s lyrics mine familiar territory, bloodsuckers waiting in the wings to drain him empty and a lament for what has passed. The refrain I sang so heartedly at 13 “if I had known then what I know now” so biting after all these years, adding new dimensions to the song in my personal experience. There’s a lilting sense to the song, the quiet/loud dynamic played beautifully through the song and the chorus sections and a real feeling of closure by the tales end.

Lukin was one of the first songs that I learned to bash out on the no-name brand Prince electric guitar and amp set I got for the following Christmas and an absolute blood pumper, one of Eddie’s best performances. Present Tense helped me through so many dark days and opens up into such a majestic jam at the end it never ceases to put a smile on my face. I’ve fallen asleep to the closing strains of Around The Bend more times than I can count. I love these songs, they make up the soundtrack to so much of the time I spent by myself reading and wondering about the world and the universe and my part in it, forming my own ideas and opinions and things on things. I will always resonate with the feelings this album can invoke in me.

It seems I have something of a love for the transitional albums others aren’t huge fans of, see my take on One Hot Minute. Like that album, this had a one time line up that wouldn’t see out another album (I’m not counting Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me and neither should you) and featured the band itself going through personal issues. Drummer Jack Irons brings a nice groove to the sound, some interesting drum patterns to work with as song writers, this the first album to relent from the grip Eddie had on the band up to the brilliant VItalogy and allow greater creative input from fellow band members, hell Gossard even gets to sing on the cheesy but rockin Mankind. I imagine I’m biased because of the additional weight my experience of the album brings to my estimation, but I always call this my favourite Pearl Jam album. I was given a vinyl pressing for Christmas just gone and can experience that glorious polaroid art in full LP glory, trading card inserts and all (yeah, my girl is the best 😛 ). In the lead up to the new album, this will be given a good flogging at my place to whet the appetite.

By Roger Killjoy

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