Pearl Jam, Binaural
Where Pearl Jam ceased to matter to a large portion of the world
Binaural is a solid record hobbled by two drawbacks: 1) mortifyingly two-dimensional production that nearly flattens McCready and Gossard’s guitars into dueling sine waves, and 2) the soft-fall sensation that Binaural represents the moment where Pearl Jam ceased to matter to a large portion of the world. In outline, Binaural is the same sort of record as Yield; a mix of garage-rocker rave-ups, mid-tempo folk rockers, a sprinkling of tasteful diversions (the ukulele ditty “Soon Forget,” the rumbling saloon blues of “Rival”) with pointedly democratic songwriting credits from most of the band. There are some powerful moments: The ballad “Light Years” is as open-hearted and vulnerable as Vedder had been in years; “Thin Air” is a pleasingly direct Everly Bros.-style pop tune; and the righteous, mangy “Rival,” obliquely inspired by the hate-crime beating of Matthew Shepard, proved they still had bite. If it all added up to less than the sum of its parts this go-round, well, chalk that up to the passage of time.