After Vitalogy and their battle with Ticketmaster there was a sense of exhaustion about Pearl Jam. Something had to give and it did. There was a palpable sense of pulling back about 1996’s No Code. Aside from the beautiful packaging, it starts out with the very understated Sometimes, a slow, creeping number in which Eddie Vedder croons about being “like a book amongst the many on the shelf”. It’s hard not to see this as a metaphor for where Pearl Jam wanted to go, to fade away from the limelight.
The influence of Neil Young was all over this album, particularly on the loping Crazy Horse like Smile and Red Mosquito. Lead single Who You Are was a real departure for Pearl Jam, a kind of uptempo campfire strum. There are more standard issue rockers like Hail, Hail, which rocks along at 90 miles an hour, and also Habit and the 60 second Lukin. These tracks pack as much wallop as anything in the Pearl Jam catalogue.
But it’s the stripped-down tracks which work really well here. Off He Goes is a really affecting song, sensitively sung by Eddie Vedder which has real impact. Equally successful is Present Tense, a real brooding number which explodes into life briefly midway through before settling back into contemplation mode.
Mankind has Stone Gossard on lead vocals, and he suffers in comparison to Vedder, which renders the song as something of a failure. They embrace their weirder side with I’m Open, a dark spoken word song before finishing with the really stripped-down Around the Bend, displaying a side of Pearl Jam which hadn’t previously been heard.
As Pearl Jam albums go, this one is quite experimental (for them), though in some ways it endures as much as their better known works such as Ten, vs etc.