Wild call a quiet one for Vedder
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
Solo projects within the realm of Pearl Jam are never taken too seriously, certainly not the attitude taken with their live and studio work. So, when Sean Penn comes calling for a soundtrack to his upcoming film Into The Wild, a tale of a young man who spurns the college life and society to take on the wilderness of Alaska, Eddie Vedder sees the potential to break out of the already loose mold which his famous band affords.
And the result? It’s a nice little album. It’s not the Friday night barn-burner that 2006’s Pearl Jam was, though; it’s a Sunday night affair, full of home-spun, organic tunes that took shape at Vedder’s pace. Anyone expecting the big guitars, or, for that matter, Vedder’s trademark wailing voice, will likely be turned off.
In their place are layered acoustic guitars, simple snare fills and Vedder’s own quiet ruminations on venturing out into the great unknown, with glass-shattering vocals replaced by a more grizzled tenor befitting the downplayed music. It is, in fact, very much in line with his previous soundtrack affairs — the Beatles cover “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” for I Am Sam and “Man of the Hour” for Tim Burton’s Big Fish. It’s mood over matter, the acoustic bed a place for his ruminations on a cut-throat world to rest.
From the opening of “Setting Forth,” the jangle of layered acoustic guitars takes center-stage with a sound that would make Tom Petty and R.E.M. feel all warm and fuzzy. In fact, Michael Stipe’s vocal influence can be heard all over this track, with Vedder’s yelps and cries a mirror for Stipe circa 1986. That unfettered approach carries on throughout, with mandolins and ukeleles adding texture to Vedder’s low key songs. Only occasionally, as on “Far Behind” or “Hard Sun,” does a harder edge break daylight. On the former, the intro is punctuated by a tough punch from a telecaster, while on “Hard Sun,” the big chorus is aided by Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker, while Vedder’s overdubbed drums adds echo to fill the spaces. “Hard Sun,” written by Gordon Peterson, stands out in this set, with its enhanced textures propelling the tune up to a higher plane. It’s not as though Vedder’s originals aren’t as strong as this, it’s just that this is given the most creative treatment of all. Electric guitars, e-bows, percussion and Vedder’s own soaring voice work to carry it from demo-land to potential classic.
Indeed, many of themes present in Vedder’s work the past decade — social warfare, bettering oneself, raging against the machine, etc. — are all present here, only in a new plaintive package. On “Long Nights,” he quietly expresses his own — or, perhaps, the film’s main character’s — feeling of self-righteousness and strenghth:
I’ve got this life
and the will to show
I will always be
Better than before
There are lots of mini experiments and indulgences that pepper the record, such as the echo on “End of the Road” and the multi-layered vocal approach on “The Wolf.” Certainly, the influence of Pete Townshend’s multi-instrumental approach to demos was at work here. Cut loose and completely alone in the studio, Vedder crafts an interesting soundscape that serves as a peek into his song-writing brain.
And as a total package, it’s easy to like In The Wild. While at its worst it’s merely pleasing, at it’s best it’s inspiring. Certainly, “Hard Sun” and the Vedder chant “The Wolf” are worth the price of admission alone, while the rest takes on the form of Vedder Unplugged, alone in his living room with a 4-track recorder and a mug of tea sitting on the coffee table.
This is not a proper solo turn so much as it’s a diversion, a peek into the singer’s organic approach to rock. As a soundtrack for an as-yet-unreleased film, it scores high marks; it’s a side of Vedder we’ve only seen glimpses of before. Pop it in the stereo this Sunday with the lights turned low and a notebook nearby. If nothing else, you’ll certainly have a few nice thoughts pour out onto the page.