In hindsight, No Code may be my favourite Pearl Jam record.
It isn’t by any stretch the one I feel is their best work… but every time I put it on, or hear a track from it, it elicits the most vivid emotional experience. No Code is a disc I had a vociferous response to upon release, that I’ve since warmed up to. I guess the catharsis endears No Code to me so much more than any other disc from their incredible portfolio.
Pearl Jam was one of my favourite bands in my formative years. I still remember hopping on my bike to ride to our local Sam the Record Man to pick up my copy of Ten in ‘91. I was hooked from there.
When No Code hit shelves in the summer of ‘96, I similarly found myself racing to the record store to grab myself a copy. Getting home, flipping through the replica Polaroid pictures (the album cover was a collage of 156 photos, with each CD coming with with 9 replicas with lyrics printed on the back), as I listened to the album the first few times, I was left feeling disappointed. Only Lukin - the shortest and most frantic track of the lot - stood out to get repeated replays (and mainly to try to decipher the lyrics, since it was one of the tracks for which I didn’t get the matching Polaroid).
Continued plays of the disc left me more and more let down. It swung from angst to lullaby from one track to the next. The record felt disjointed, inconsistent, incoherent. Worse, there really didn’t feel at the time like there were any “big” tracks that sunk their hooks into me to make the record worthwhile.
I was hurt. I was a teenager who wanted more Ten and Vs., and ended up with a mishmash of what I felt was filler.
“If I had known then what I know now”
As time passed, my appreciation for the record grew. Tracks of the lighter variety like Sometimes, Off He Goes, and Around the Bend that I had considered “filler” in earlier listens eventually grew on me as they showcased an emotional and musical range I hadn’t really considered before. I can’t listen to the disc today without being drawn into the melodies and harmonies.
What’s more, lyrically, themes of spirituality, morality and self-examination became more relatable than they were to my 16 year-old self. Having matured, new ways to appreciate the disc bubbled up to the surface.
Now with each listen, I’m reminded of my foolish teenage self, and through my own self-evaluation get to ponder all the many things I’ve been I’ve been wrong about in my innocence and ignorance over the years.