Pearl Jam - No Code / by Rollie Agado

In the fall of 1996, I moved to the motor city and began my Freshman year of college.  Pearl Jam's fourth studio album No Code had just come out and a girl I was hooking up with at the time surprised me with a copy of the CD.   She knew I was a fan of PJ and also knew that I didn't have a vehicle on campus and this little token of friendship has gone without thanks for nearly 20 years.   Pauline, if you're reading this somewhere. Thank you.

CD, Vinyl and Cassette...

Pearl Jam's - NO CODE - is hands down my favorite album by the band.  Note, I don't think it's their best album...  I believe that Vs. and Yield are better studio efforts.  I just happen to favor this record because it's an album that I dismissed immediately and then hit me like a ton of bricks as I aged into my later 20's.   

As I look back and listen to this album in my later 30's...  I'm amazed that my perception of the album has shifted again.   I vividly recall how I felt about the album at age 18.  The band had gone from being one of the largest bands in the world, to being a band that was on the brink of splitting up at any given moment.

Catching Pearl Jam live has always been a difficult thing to do, due largely in part to their stardom and their fight with Ticket Master.   Pearl Jam played Toledo, Ohio in 1996 - roughly 40 minutes south of Detroit Mercy and it was impossible to get tickets.  A college friend by the name of Joe Yamin was a Ten Fan Club member and I recall running into him the day after the show and he was a total glow.   I would see Pearl Jam in Dallas, Texas in the Summer of 1998 (Given to Fly Tour) with some life long friends...  but I've never been able to let go of the fact that I did not get to see them in support of No Code...

I had to settle on pouring over the strangeness that is the artwork of No Code.   The packaging of the album is freakishly elaborate for a CD.   Which is a lot to say, given that Pearl Jam had released Vitalogy a few years before and that had to have given Epic Records a fucking heart attack when assembling the packaging for that album.  

The artwork is composed of 156 Polaroids that were taken by Eddie Vedder.  He reportedly found a forensic Polaroid camera with a macro lens.  Any photo taken further away than four feet was out of focus.  "A bowl of soup became art. Bird Shit on a blue car looked like the cosmos."  - Eddie Vedder.

When you stand back and look at the artwork you can make out a "No Code" triangle, which is a medical term that means "Do Not resuscitate".

"I thought that was symbolic of where we were with the group: If we're dying, let us die. Don't try to save us. We don't want to live as vegetables." - Eddie Vedder.

The weirdness didn't stop there...  the album contained a set of "polaroids" inside.  9 photos which contained lyrics to some of the songs on the album.   There are 4 sets of polaroids which are known as "C, O, D, E".   There is no way to tell which one you're getting from outside the album so collecting all four is a pain in the ass.  Again - "no code".

Over the years, I've picked up this album on various formats.  I have it on Vinyl, Cassette and CD...  I just recently learned that a version of it is on Sony Mini-CD.  That's the only known format that I don't currently own it in... but I would pick it up in a heart beat if I ran across a copy of it tho'.  

It's hard to really pick out favorite tracks on an album I love unconditionally....  This is clearly in my all time top 5 albums, so I'm going to share some insights on every track of the album.

Pearl Jam – Sometimes - The opening track to No Code...  it sorta sets the tone for the record.  Brendan O' Brian does a number of interesting things with introducing the sound of rolling thunder and roars in the middle.   Pearl Jam's sound has changed a lot over the years and that largely has to do with the revolving drummer situation...  you can also say the same for Pearl Jam albums where Eddie opens up.  This song and album is incredibly introspective. 

My small self... like a book amongst the many on a shelf
Sometimes i know, sometimes i rise
Sometimes i fall, sometimes i don't
Sometimes i cringe, sometimes i live
Sometimes i walk, sometimes i kneel
Sometimes i speak of nothing at all
Sometimes i reach to myself, dear god

Pearl Jam – Hail, Hail - is the second track of the album.  I vividly remember them playing this on Letterman when the album dropped.  It's one of my favorite songs regarding the hardships of love.  It also has a lyric that means a lot to me.  I believe that it speaks a lot to what I want in a woman.

I sometimes realize i could only be as good as you'll let me
Are you woman enough to be my man?
Bandaged hand in hand

Pearl Jam – Who You Are - this is one of the most interesting songs on No Code...  I'm hesitant to post any lyrics on this track.  I think that every listener can interpret whom they are when listening to this song.

Stop light plays its part so I would say you've got a part.In

Pearl Jam – In My Tree - one of my favorite tracks on the album, due largely in part to Jack Iron's distinctive drumming.  My favorite lyric: 

I'm so high I hold just one breath deep within my chest just like innocence.

Pearl Jam – Smile - I always think of my friends Jaime and Jessie when I hear this song.  This was (and may still be) their "couple" song.  It's also the only Pearl Jam song I have ever sang in karaoke...  my favorite lyric:  Three crooked hearts. Swirls all around, yeah 

Pearl Jam – Off He Goes - hands down my favorite track on the album.  It clearly speaks to the inner dynamics of the band... it's very much Eddie speaking about Eddie.  There's a lyric at the end of the song that has always spoken to me.  This largely has a lot to do with me hating to say goodbye.  

Until a quarter to ten. I saw the strain creep in.
He seems distracted and I know just what is going to happen next.
Before his first step he is off again.

Pearl Jam – Habit - I find myself wanting to skip this song more often than sitting through it.
Speaking as a child of the 90's...

Pearl Jam – Red Mosquito - I may be in the minority, but I fucking love this song.  It's heavily influenced by Neil Young... but the Mike's guitar work is fucking incendiary.  I'm not entirely sure what the song is about.  A red mosquito I think.  The purpose of this track again is to hear McCready wail on that fucking axe. 

Watched from the window with a red mosquito.
I was not allowed to leave the room.
I saw the sun go down and now it's coming up.
Somewhere in the time between I was bitten.
Must have been the devil.
He was just paying me a little visit.
Reminding me of his presence.
Letting me know he's a-waiting. Ohh...

Pearl Jam – Lukin - sonically, one would quickly say that this is Habbit's kissing cousin.  Lyrically, I think its one of the most interesting ones on the record though.  The song is about visiting Matt Lukin's (Melvins) house and finding sanctuary in his kitchen.  At the time Eddie Vedder had a problem with a stalker... and he reportedly was getting tired of hearing that pearl jam penned very long songs.   

I found the key but I return to find an open door.
Some fucking freak who claims I fathered, by rape, her own son.
I find my wife, I call the cops, this days work's never done.
The last I heard that freak was purchasing a fucking gun.

Pearl Jam – Present Tense - the Keystone song on No Code.  I vividly recall laying awake one night listening to this song and completely changing my mind on the album.   

Have you ideas on how this life ends?
Checked your hands and studied the lines.
Have you the belief that the road ahead ascends off into the light?
Seems that needlessly it's getting harder to find an approach and a way to live.
Are we getting something out of this all encompassing trip.

Pearl Jam – Mankind - I have always loved this song and this is not an opinion that is shared with by most of my friends.  I vividly recall talking about songs we wanted to hear live in 98 with Jaime.   State of Love and Trust was atop my list as was Mankind.   I nearly shit myself when they played it.   I'm pretty sure everyone else in attendance, wished that another track made the set list.  Fuck all the haters.

I'll be playing with my magazine, using up my Listerine, like Ovaltine.
And you'll be dipping in your battleship, for the latest tip, for the latest dream.

Pearl Jam – I'm Open - a poetic endeavor at the end of No Code.  My favorite moment can be captured in this lyric.

When he was six he believed that the moon overhead followed him, by nine he had deciphered the illusion trading magic for fact.
No tradebacks.
So this is what it's like to be an adult.

Pearl Jam – Around The Bend - the last track off No Code...  like the first track on the album, it's incredibly tender to listen to.   In many ways it reminds me of a song that Elvis could cover.

You're an angel when you sleep.
How I want your soul to keep on, and on, around the bend.

Artists: Pearl Jam
Album: No Code
Producer: Brendan O'Brien
Label: Epic
Recorded: Chicago Recording Company, Kingsway Studio, Studio Litho