Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs
As you’re already aware, there’s a precedent for this kind of thing… Eddie has thrown tracks like this onto Pearl Jam records, of course. But a whole record of them? Would it fly?
The tracks contained here are thoughtful ruminations, heart-felt appeals for love and understanding. Yes, they are plinky-plunky little ditties that would sound ridiculous if anybody else had attempted this – in truth, Eddie’s got some stones for throwing this solo record out into this savagely critical world. After all, this may be a disorienting departure for him because most people don’t really think of Eddie as a player, but as a vocalist first. Sure, he’s been seen with guitars (and ukuleles) more often as time has gone on (can’t keep up his youthful flailing around forever), but he’s still the “singer” to most people. Well, to those who were thinking of giving this a miss as a frippery, know that the musicality and instrumentation here are very tight, and yes, the vocals are pure Eddie. This is a great record you need to hear. Also, Pearl Jam fans – who really don’t give a shit what the world thinks of their devotion to their favourite band, and there are a lot of these people out there – will eat this up, so maybe he’s not so crazy for doing this after all…
These are mostly short songs, with only one track cracking the three minute mark, and the whole record blasts to a close in under 35 minutes. I see the wisdom in this – too much of a good thing is still too much of something, and these ideas are complete without repetition. No sense dragging things out. Very punk in its thinking, that.
There are a few oldie tracks here: More Than You Know (1929), Sleepless Nights (1960), Once In A While (1937), the single, Tonight You Belong To Me (1926), and album closer Dream A Little Dream Of Me (1930). All of which fit perfectly, that old feel translating well to modern ears. And the original songs fit right in – the album is seamless. The cell phone thing at the end of Satellite, whether it was staged or not (do you really believe that’s Eddie’s ring tone?), is funny. The cello by Chris Worswick on Longing To Belong is lovely. Cat Power sings some harmonies on Tonight You Belong To Me in her unique voice, and Glen Hansard (Frames, Swell Season… and he was Outspan in The Commitments) lends perfectly complimentary vocals to Sleepless Nights.
The only thing that makes me wonder about this whole enterprise is the cover of PJ’s Can’t Keep as an album opener. Sure, he gives it hell, but was he hoping that a (potentially) familiar song would ease the listener into the rest of the record a little? Personally, I think he should have started the record with the eight second-long Hey Fahkah, and buried the PJ track in the second half. Try it out in your head – it works! Peripherally, I’m also not sure what Waving Palms is doing here, seems an afterthought, but so be it.
Kudos to Eddie for this (overall) excellent record. I wasn’t certain I needed to hear an entire album of Soon Forget, but this is not like that at all. That song’s anger is not present here. This is much, much more, a very thoughtful and well-executed effort. Two thumbs up.