As one of the pioneers of the alternative rock revolution out of Seattle, Pearl Jam is also one of the only bands to survive it. While their peers have fallen behind due to an over abundance of imitators and changing musical climates, Pearl Jam’s perseverance is nothing but admirable. But as Binaural illustrates, perseverance has nothing to do with a band’s relevancy. While Binaural still showcases Pearl Jam’s ability to create thoughtful rock songs, it doesn’t deviate from their original sound. It still deserves to be heard, but it just doesn’t sound fresh and exciting as it did when Pearl Jam first broke.
After the first three traditional noisy songs, Binaural settles into a mellower, darker mode with the graceful “Light Years.” They maintain this for the rest of the album, creating a pleasantly oppressive mood that compliments but never overpowers the music. Still, it feels a bit formulaic, recalling their earlier albums like Vitalogy. It’s unfortunate that Pearl Jam hasn’t redefined their sound in any noticeable way since 1994.
While most of the lyrics are written by lead singer Eddie Vedder, the other band members share writing credits, like bass player Jeff Ament’s questioning of fate on “God’s Dice” and guitar player Stone Gossard’s sweethearted “Thin Air.” These songs help to break up Vedder’s reflections and provide different insights on these traditional subjects. Still, Pearl Jam tries too hard to maintain their position as underground rebels with the opening track “Breakerfall” about a girl looking for more than what life has given her, and the annoying throw-away “Soon Forget” about the emptiness of modern life. Neither of these songs says anything that hasn’t been said before by Pearl Jam in one way or another.
Pearl Jam has become something of an institution for their refusal to fade from music, but Binaural sounds too much like their previous albums to feel current. If they continue this way, Pearl Jam’s lack of change will be their downfall since even dedicated fans will lose interest. Their music just doesn’t mean as much as it once did, and Pearl Jam needs to realize that.