Sound — 8
Binaural incorporates the experimentalism of No Code with the straight rock of Yield, with overall positive results. The album is a mix of straight out rockers (Breakerfall, Grievance), heavy soundscapes (Insignificance, Sleight Of Hands), ballads (Thin Air, Parting Ways), discordant numbers (Light Years, Rival), playful interludes (Soon Forget), and just about every other style the band has dabbled with at one point or another. Nothing as it seems has some of Mike McCready's best guitar work ever, and Insignificance is another standout. Binaural rewards frequent and patient listens, much more so than most Pearl Jam albums. For a band that is rarely accesible right off the bat, this is maybe their most challenging album ever. Headphones are a must, and greatly add to the experience. The album was recorded with them in mind. This was Matt Cameron's first studio ablum with the band, and he actually writes one of the songs (albiet, not one of the best ones). The biggest problem with Binaural, musically, is that it is often more interesting than engaging. These are easy songs to appreciate, and tougher songs to love, with a few exceptions. There are also some songs (Evacuation, God's Dice, and Thin Air) which just don't seem to go anywhere and prevent the album from ever really finding its stride.
Lyrics — 8
Vocally Eddie turns in a performance similar to Yield, although he is even more restrained here than on Yield. Except for Breakerfall and Grievance he rarely lets himself go, to the detriment of songs like Light Years and Insignificance, songs that are almost classics but can't quite get over that hump. There doesn't seem to be any thematic unity to most of the songs, unlike the previous three albums. Lyrically the standouts are Grievance (about the WTO protests and the best politcal song Pearl Jam ever wrote), Insignificance (the second best political song Pearl jam ever wrote--about trying to make sense of why your country gets bombed from a third world perspective), Sleight of Hand (about trying to find meaning in a reified world), and Light Years (a touching goodbye to a lost friend). Like Yield (and Riot Act) Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard pen some lyrics, and they are largely forgettable (although there are some great lines in Nothing As It Seems). Thin Air and God's Dice in particular are real throw away numbers. Rival and Nothing As It Seems are both good songs that could have been great songs with some better writing.
Overall Impression — 8
Binaural is a good record, but not great. Breakerfall is a solid opener (Pearl Jam has always been good at kicking off a record) but the album stalls with God's Dice, which has a generic, vaguely punk feel to it, and Evacuation, which is too awkward to be loved. Light Years and Nothing As It seems are both quite good, but not classics, and Thin Air, a fairly boring acoustic love song, disrupts the momentum once again. The back half of the record is actually superior to the first. Insignificance is a titanic song, and the guitar work is excellent. You can hear the shockwaves of the falling bombs, without any cheesey sound effects. Of A Girl has enough eastern mystery to make it enjoyable, and Grievance is fantastic, the high point of the album. Rival channels Red Mosquito, but slower and off tune. Still, it is good enough to keep the record going. SLeight of Hand is interesting, but difficult. Worth a listen, but once again stalls the record. Soon Forget is a fun little parable about greed, featuring Eddie on his ukulele. Parting Ways channels a bit of Long Road, and is a moving song about a decaying relationship, and a nice way for the album to end. This is an album for Pearl Jam fans, and they'll enjoy it, but not one for new converts. Probably their most uneven record to date, and the item in their catalouge I'd pick up last. However, even a flawed Pearl Jam record has its gems, and likely to be better than anything compareable bands are putting out. What is really frustrating is that the Lost Dogs records had several fantastic songs from the Binaural sessions that inexcusably failed to make it onto the record. If you swapped out God's Dice, Evacuation, and Thin Air, for Sad, Education, and Fatal Binaural suddenly becomes one of their best records.