Wednesday, October 10

Vedder Can't Tame Wild Soundtrack

Artist: Eddie Vedder
Album: Into the Wild: Music from the Motion Picture

Comments: When deciding how to score his recent film Into the Wild, first time director Sean Penn had to try to find someone who could convey the lonesome, sometimes oppressive beauty of the natural world in a purely auditory medium. His answer to this paradox was the lead singer of the prolific rock powerhouse known as Pearl Jam, the often moody but always talented Eddie Vedder. Vedder’s Into the Wild: Music from the Motion Picture, while no doubt an adequate companion to the film, fails stand on its own as an independent work.

While this is a soundtrack / film score, it is also Vedder’s first solo album, with “solo” being the main idea both thematically and in practice. Besides two cover songs and two guest vocalists, Vedder wrote every piece, sang every line, and played every instrument on the album himself. The arrangement of the album is very stripped down; most tracks are just acoustic guitar, minimal drums, and Vedder’s voice. This minimalist sentiment in songwriting is not only miles away from Pearl Jam’s usual grandiose stadium grunge, but serve to remind the listener that this is an album for a film about a man crossing the country alone.

Still, it is telling that the two best songs on the album are the ones that sound the most like Pearl Jam. Album opener “Setting Forth” is a restrained song that serves very well as a starting point for an album about isolation. “Hard Sun” is a mid-tempo rock track with minimalist drums and a classic folk-rock guitar riff that allows Vedder’s voice to draw in the listener and keep them interested. The song is, hands down, the anchor of the album as it allows Vedder to stretch his vocals some, and it is the only song on the album that really has the time to develop.

Still, the small scope of the album does more harm than good for Vedder. His styles have always been more breathtaking in grandness than in restraint. Most of the tracks on Into the Wild are pleasant and agreeable, but often too much so to be anything more than white noise. The only song that sticks out is the over-trebled “Rise” which works by playing Vedder’s low growl off a high pitched mandolin. Another problem is that most of the songs on the album don’t break the three minute mark, save for “Hard Sun” and “Guaranteed.” While length is not usually a problem with Vedder, the brevity of the songs hold them back, keeping potentially good songs from growing and forming. The most obvious offender is “Tuolumne,” which takes an excellent folk riff and cheats it out of greatness by making it nothing more than one minute interlude.

In spite of all this, it’s hard for me to fault Vedder for such an underwhelming album. After all, this is not so much a solo album as it is a film score, and for a movie about man finding his way in nature, Vedder’s folk songs are the perfect soundtrack. But a good soundtrack and a good album aren’t interchangeable, and without the support of the film Into the Wild is nothing more than a hollow collection of nice folk songs. When Penn asked Vedder to score his film, he probably thought he was doing Vedder a favor. What he did was cheat Vedder and Pearl Jam fans across the globe of a proper outlet for the rock front man. One can only hope this isn’t Vedder’s lone solo attempt; he deserves better.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Rise, Hard Sun
Worth The Money: Nah. For what it is, you can get better easy listening, soft rock albums

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