Pearl Jam - No Code
Epic Records
Hard/Alternative Rock
13 songs (49:37)
Release year: 1996
Pearl Jam, Epic Records
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Pearl Jam’s fourth album came at a difficult point for the band. They had just launched their infamous boycott of Ticketmaster, probably the biggest reason that the band never achieved the superstar status that a more commercial outlook would have given them, as refusing to play in venues that supported the company effectively meant that they didn’t play in the whole of the United States for three years, several exceptions notwithstanding. Internal tensions over this had helped to force the firing of drummer Dave Abbruzzese, and the band started the recording sessions for No Code without informing bassist Jeff Ament for three days – Ament later walked out of the sessions and considered quitting.

You can hear this strife captured on No Code, in many ways; it’s a radically different album for the band, with hints of their Post-Grunge sound here and there but for the most part a mixed collection of Garage Rock and highly experimental ballads. The band’s practise of stereo guitars, one in each ear, continues, and this enhances the experimental feel of the album. Album opener Sometimes starts soft and almost ambient, very like Neil Young, building up and collapsing back in on itself before Hail, Hail comes out of nowhere, a catchy guitar-oriented rocker. Tribal drumming opens and drives Who You Are, a sombre yet strangely hopeful song, and the album’s first single. Vedder’s distinct vocals really come to focus; his deep voice is a real 70s throwback, which added to the percussion and sitar-like guitar playing is the very essence of a band trying to rediscover itself through experimentation – the results are certainly more focused and enjoyable than The Beatles’ attempts at Eastern sounds.

The drumming turns almost Tool-like in its polyrhythmic patterns on In My Tree, an emotional, almost Proggy exploration that always infuriates me because it fades out instead of continuing for another ten minutes. Atmospheric and beautiful in ways too subtle and personal to mention, the song is one of my favourite ever from Pearl Jam, and increased my opinion of Jack Irons (the then-drummer, formerly of Red Hot Chili Peppers) immensely. Sadly, Smile is a step down, despite some harmonica and a great second half, but ideally the band would have left it out and gone straight into Off He Goes, a gentle six-minute reflection, according to Vedder an exploration of how he is a ‘shit friend’. Habit is its foil, an angry coil of Hard Rock that features Vedder’s rawest vocals, which I often have trouble enjoying but the song itself is good.

From here on, the quality of the songs depends on your taste. Personally, I enjoy them all, the wistful Red Mosquito with its insect-like guitar, the manic Lukin, Present Tense almost a sequel to In My Tree... other notable moments are Mankind, with Stone Gossard on lead vocals and reminding me of R.E.M., and I’m Open, another taste of the subtleness that drove Sometimes with spoken lyrics. The album ends with Around The Corner, practically a lullaby.

As with most Pearl Jam albums, describing their quality without mentioning the personal impact that they can have is rather useless. No Code touches something, definitely, but at the same time it’s an album that’s cobbled-together. Like the artwork, made up of many small pictures (the digipack unfolds to reveal an overall image) No Code is made up of many disparate elements that often clash but each have a world of depth if you’re willing to look closer. It’s not so much a sum of its parts, or indeed greater than its parts, but it is its parts exactly, a set of songs that often get overlooked by fans but which remain, for me at least, an excellent offering from Pearl Jam, third best at least in their catalogue.

Killing Songs :
Hail, Hail, Who You Are, In My Tree, Off He Goes, Habit, Red Mosquito, Present Tense, Around The Corner
Goat quoted 89 / 100
Adam quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Pearl Jam that we have reviewed:
Pearl Jam - Backspacer reviewed by Goat and quoted 82 / 100
Pearl Jam - Live On Two Legs reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam reviewed by Adam and quoted 88 / 100
Pearl Jam - Yield reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Pearl Jam - Vitalogy reviewed by Adam and quoted 89 / 100
To see all 10 reviews click here
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