Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Strange Case of the Great Song I Almost Never Heard

Pearl Jam has a new album out, Lightning Bolt. The first single is called "Sirens." It's an amazing song - a soaring power ballad with a gorgeous melody, beautifully sung by my darling Eddie Vedder.

Who apparently is planning to just go ahead and become
sexier and more talented with every passing year
until I experience heart failure. Well, OK, if you insist.
I love Pearl Jam. I think Vs. is maybe the defining rock album of the 1990s, and I think Mr. Vedder is among the rarefied group of popular artists whose music becomes richer and more uncompromising with every new release.

An entire album of songs played on the ukulele?
And it's brilliant? Yes. And yes.
But you know, Pearl Jam has been around a while and like most hard rock bands, some of their rough edges have been worn down over time, partly to avoid repetition, partly to reflect the band's experience and expanded horizons, and partly because these guys are pushing 50 and (I hear) everyone starts to slow down just a bit at that age.

And on an entirely unrelated note,
happy 70th birthday, Keith.
Anyway, PJ's sound has evolved in certain ways, which certainly is much better than the Beach Boys trying to replicate "I Get Around" for five decades, right? But one of the things I've noticed is that my darling Eddie has developed a penchant for a sort of folk-crooner style. Kind of like Leonard Nimoy singing about Hobbits.

Not without its awesomeness, but still.
Eddie's slow croon is not my favorite PJ mode. It seems flaccid and dull to me. Personal preference. It's why I was disappointed when a local radio station first dropped "Sirens." The song begins with a gentle tapping of cymbals and a moaning guitar intro, followed by the vocals.

"Hear the sirens...hear the sireeeeeeens..."

I turned it off after about 45 seconds. It didn't grab me. It was too slow, too languid, Eddie's vocal seemed mannered and uninspired. I felt let down. I felt the same way the next time I heard it, and the next. Each time, I gave the song about 45 seconds before I changed the station.

Sorry, PJ. Better luck next time.

Then, a few days later, I caught a great song on the radio. I picked it up in the middle, so I didn't know its name or who it was by. But I loved it. It was powerful and passionate and had great lyrics and a stunning vocal performance. And I thought to myself, "Damn, this is exactly what I wish Pearl Jam still sounded like."

I heard the song a few more times and loved it a little more each time. And each time, as luck would have it, I caught it about a minute in.

You know where I'm going with this.

Yeah, it finally occurred to me that this wonderful, anonymous song sounded a lot like Pearl Jam. And Pearl Jam had a new song out that I had only heard the beginning of.

Wait a minute, honey, I'm gonna add it up.
So yeah, the next time "Sirens" played, I made myself stay with it for longer than 45 seconds.

Guess what? "Sirens" turns into a great, great song exactly 50 seconds in. And it proceeds in its greatness for nearly another five minutes.

But to my ears, those first 49 seconds are brutal.

Maybe I'll get used to them, especially now that I know that my patience will be rewarded. Maybe I'll compose a grocery list or hum the Muppets theme song until the song hits its stride. I don't know.

The moral of the story is: If something is terrible, you should stick with it on the off chance that it will turn out well.

That's a pretty freaking awful moral, actually. Forget I said that.

Here, listen to "Sirens." Pro tip: Slide the little button thingy to the right, about oh, 49 seconds' worth.


  1. Like it or not the first 49 seconds of "Sirens" is IN NO WAY COMPARABLE TO LEONARD NIMOY SINGING ABOUT HOBBITS.

    "Sirens" eventually gets better and not even the first 49 seconds causes bleeding from the ears.

    1. I did debate whether to include the video of "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins." I decided to have mercy.


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