Give Me The Codes
With the release of their 1996 album legendary alternative rock band Pearl Jam found themselves at the peak of their creativity. Extraordinarily enough audiences didn’t seem to want to meet them there. The album opened at number one on the charts but quickly slipped down. At the release party I was at there were quite a few walk outs, people leaving before the album was done playing. No Code became the first Pearl Jam album that didn’t reach multi-platinum status. The album is an exercise in experimental art. The drastic difference in sound, tone, and theme from their previous album Vitalogy was staggering. In that two-year gap between their last album Pearl Jam radically changed their entire sound and song writing approach and overall longtime fans and critics weren’t loving it. In pop culture whether it’s in music or the movies there always seems to be a grandstanding and a cheerleading for fans demanding something new and different and for an artist to take big chances then when it actually happens everyone changes there tune as says well just give me the same old thing. No Code is certainly an album of not the same old thing. Even listening to it today it sounds unique, like nothing I’ve ever heard. It’s an album to be enraptured by. It takes you somewhere. I think it’s the most rewarding album of the bands entire career. I’m afraid the negative reaction to the album prevented the band from going even further with their experimental creativity in future efforts. Their following album in 1998, Yield was a very straightforward sound with more standard and uncomplicated lyrics and directive. A straight line to No Codes veering off the highway. Maybe that’s exactly what the band wanted or maybe they were turned off by the reaction when they went off the rails. Either way they never returned to the likes of No Code again. Yield is a great rock album maybe better than No Code, but Pearl Jam made other albums like it whereas No Code seems to be a one and done. A quick expedition. An exciting excursion off of the main road and then quickly back on again. In many ways that makes the album more memorable, dangerous and rarified. More precious and more of something to enjoy and treasure. Vacations or long trips where everything seems to work out and go smoothly with no annoying detours or holdups are nice but the vacation where you get lost and turned around and off track and things go haywire for a bit and you even might lose your bearings for a moment are always if not the most enjoyable certainly the most memorable. They’re the trips you end up talking about for the rest of your life and always returning to in your mind. There what you really want to listen to again. There are plenty of albums in the Pearl Jam catalogue to appreciate but there is really only one that stands out on a island from all the rest. No Code is what can happen when you take chances and steer in new directions in art. When you reach for something grand on a personal level whether an audience goes with you or not you can achieve something exceptionally idiosyncratic and genuinely alternative.