It's inevitable that the frontman for a legendary band will take a solo turn. However, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder (born Edward Louis Severson III in Evanston, Illinois on 12/23/64) took a slightly different course.
As Pearl Jam was forming band members contacted vocalist Vedder, who was in San Diego. Sent a tape containing instrumental tracks, Vedder was told to write lyrics and lay them over the pre-recorded music. Obviously, he passed this unusual long distance audition. The rest is, as they say history. Pearl Jam became one of the premier Grunge bands and outlasted Soundgarden, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins (since reformed).
Their '91 debut "Ten," sophomore release "Vs" and "Vitalogy," released in late '94, made Pearl Jam a top-selling band. Subsequent studio albums, live sets "Live On Two Legs" and "Live At The Gorge 05/06" and various compilations including "Lost Dogs," a collection of b-sides and rarities (going back to early in their career) and their seven CD-box set showed Pearl Jam to be a band of extraordinary depth and creativity.
As Pearl Jam's frontman, Vedder was the center of attention. And sometimes that could be controversial. During Pearl Jam's headlining stint on the final night of Lollapalooza '07 in Chicago, Vedder's lyrics criticizing President Bush were censored from a live webcast by AT&T Inc. The lines cut from a rendition of "Daughter" (with a part to the tune of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall") included "George Bush, leave this world alone," the second time it was sung, and "George Bush find yourself another home." Days later AT&T admitted they made a mistake (no kidding). Following the incident Pearl Jam posted a notice. "This troubles us . . . as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media," wrote the band.
Vedder performed at the '07 Toronto International Film Festival for the world premiere of the movie Body Of War, a documentary about an Iraq war veteran paralyzed by a bullet wound. Vedder composed two songs for the film. He was motivated to contribute his talents partly by the deaths of nine fans during PJ's set at '00's Roskilde Festival in Denmark. "I have a hard time thinking that . . . Dick Cheney or George Bush (have) had this close an experience with tragic death right in front of them," stated Vedder.
Vedder contributed his rendition of "All Along the Watchtower," backed by members of Sonic Youth, Wilco and Television, to the soundtrack for the impressionistic Bob Dylan bio flick I'm Not There.
Another Vedder solo project that year was composing the soundtrack for Into The Wild. The Sean Penn film was about adventurer Chris McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) who met a sad end in Alaska. Vedder also played nearly all the instruments. "I thought we'd call in real musicians at some point," offered Vedder. "But there's something about not having to explain . . . the soul of whatever the song was. (I'd) just grab the bass and do it (myself)."
Vedder made his debut solo video appearance when "Guaranteed" premiered on VH1. The Into The Wild track went on to win the Golden Globe award for Best Original Song.
Long after the film was out, Vedder was sued for copyright infringement. He recorded "Hard Sun" for the soundtrack but composer Gordon Peterson, who originally released the song, claimed Vedder's lyric changes had eroded "the integrity of the composition."
Instead of going to court, perhaps Peterson's response should have been, "Thank you, Mr. Vedder for recording my song and making me a few bucks so my mom doesn't think I'm a total loser." Guess not.
After "Into The Wild" fans probably expected Vedder to come roaring out on this sophomore set. But no.
'11 album "Ukulele Songs" is just that. Vedder bought a ukulele while on vacation in Hawaii (where else?) and learned how to play it. He even used the instrument to compose some Pearl Jam songs.
2007 Into The Wild
2011 Ukulele Songs
Anyone expecting the "Into The Wild" soundtrack to be a Pearl Jam variant or even Pearl Jam-lite will be disappointed. Here, acoustic guitars, banjos and mandolins are the instruments of choice. The album's style and overall feeling is close to Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska."
Vedder's gruff but moving vocals and the sparse arrangements add to the film's emotional depth - in other words, it works perfectly.
On the other hand, "Ukulele Songs" is a bit of an odd duck (Vedder and his instrument of choice). One critic suggested that the album would have made a better EP rather than a sixteen song full-length effort. You have to admit, that's a lot of ukulele.