Vinyl Vlog 560

Vinyl Vlog 560

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Tuesday, 19 July 2022
COLUMN

Pearl Jam
No Code

photo: turntablelab.com

Few albums were as impactful in my formative years as Pearl Jam’s No Code. I was just getting into music and had very little for a starting off point. It was Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire, Bush’s Razorblade Suitcase, and Pearl Jam’s No Code. I saw music, and particularly rock music, as a vehicle to coolness. Rock music was edgy and if you liked the right bands it made you cool. Unfortunately, for me No Code was just too much for me to handle.

No Code is probably Pearl Jam’s most transitional record. It catches the band exhausted and trying to make something, anything, in the studio. The results are fragmented and barely make for a coherent theme. This is one of the reasons it’s called No Code. If this record ended up killing the band, at least they owned it.

For a 15 year old me, No Code was my distinction from the pack. Here was a new record, by a respected band (in 1996), that was going to be huge and I was going to be part of that ascension. But, No Code was way too complex for me, in the best ways possible. I was expecting this album to be straightforward cool and to rock in the most boring conventional way. I just couldn’t reckon with the variety and subversiveness. Listening to this album again after so many years, it took me right back to those moments of incomprehension and all the questions I had. Why didn’t all the songs rock like Hail Hail? What does Vedder mean by “Are You Woman Enough to Be My Man”? Was Habit about drugs? Why does Red Mosquito have a harmonica, if those aren’t cool? Lukin’ rocks but why does Vedder have to sing it like that? Is I’m Open even a song? Why can’t No Code be easier to understand? I was way out of my element. Twenty years later, I still don’t understand No Code, but I enjoy it a whole lot more. Every  song on here stands on its own and tries to deliver its own message. For a rock band, No Code shows that Pearl Jam can spread its wings a little and also play jazzier, bluesier, more tribal sounding stuff. Oh, and the Neil Young influences are much more obvious now. I think I understand what the band is trying to do. Sonically, it’s still perfect with the guitars front and center and the drums as loud as can be. Suits me just fine!

It’s definitely cool that No Code has been repressed especially recreating one of the most elaborate packages of its time. The cover opens up into four panels to reveal the No Code logo. Inside are multiple polaroids inserts with the lyrics on the back. The whole thing is on a gatefold filled with photos of the recording sessions and Ouija-looking artwork.

No Code is simply an immersive album that is as risky as it is rewarding, if you put in the time. There’s a lot going on here and might be Pearl Jam’s most ambitious record.

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