Yield Label: Sony
Coming on the heels of a lukewarm reception for their fourth album, 1996's No Code, the release of Yield was met with guarded optimism by Pearl Jam fans who began to wonder if perhaps Eddie Vedder and the boys were slowly approaching the end of their impressive musical journey. Sure, they were still churning out some remarkable material and, if given the chance to flash its unmistakable charm, even No Code was an engaging collection of songs, but something was missing. Everybody who latched on to the ferociousness of 1991's Ten had been waiting for a repeat performance from the grunge icons, but Pearl Jam had since moved past that inspiring debut with each subsequent release, instead focusing on their growth as musicians and the continued maturation of their material. And after more than six years, the band's bullheaded legion of fans finally moved on too, with a little nudge from Yield, of course.
As with most PJ releases, Yield gets off to an aggressive start with "Brain of J," a guitar-driven outburst that until now had been a bootleg staple under the extended title of "Brain of JFK." The second track, "Faithful," starts out with some innocent Vedder vocals accompanied by a gentle guitar before unleashing a crashing chorus that immediately kicks the song into a hidden gear. On the Neil Young-esque "No Way," Vedder reluctantly admits, "I just need someone to be there for…me / I just want someone to be there for…me," before later stating, "I'm not trying to make a difference / I'll stop trying to make a difference / No way." The simplistic beauty of "Given to Fly," the album's first single, stands toe-to-toe with anything Pearl Jam has ever recorded, as does "Wishlist," an unabashed look at some of Eddie's personal aspirations: "I wish I was the pedal brake that you depended on / I wish I was the verb 'to trust' and never let you down."
The second half of Yield is even more addictive, beginning with the punkish "Do the Evolution," a gritty song featuring a truly ominous outlook on human nature: "I'm ahead / I'm the Man / I'm the first mammal to wear pants, yeah / I'm at peace with my lust / I can kill 'cause in God I trust, yeah." The rugged "MFC," now a concert favorite, is tragically too short at just over two minutes, which should nonetheless be just enough time to win your affection. "Low Light," an intoxicating ballad filled with vivid lyrics, is a dark-horse contender for the album's best song, but it would have to beat out "In Hiding," boasting the most memorable chorus on the disc, and "All Those Yesterdays" with its comforting message of self-preservation.
At a time when most bands gain popularity and airtime by essentially releasing the same CD with the same songs over and over again, the members of Pearl Jam deserve credit for never resting on their past success. Albums like Yield and No Code epitomize their commitment to progression and creativity, representing a belief that their fans deserve the absolute best they have to offer every time they're on stage or in the studio. They kept doing what they wanted to do, giving their fans what they thought was exceptional music despite the constant outcry for something more along the lines of Ten. Pearl Jam didn't budge, though, hoping that their exceptional material would win out in the end. Judging by the success of Yield, I'd say the plan worked.