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13 Years Ago: Pearl Jam’s ‘Binaural’ Album Released

Pearl Jam Binaural
Epic Records

When Pearl Jam began working on their sixth album, ‘Binaural,’ in 1999, they went in with a different set of priorities. For starters, they weren’t using producer Brendan O’Brien, who helped shape every Pearl Jam album since their second, 1993’s ‘Vs.’ Instead, they recruited Tchad Blake, best known for the textured soundscapes he applied to records by Los Lobos and Tom Waits, to co-produce with them. And because of Blake’s experimental approach to record making, the band itself adapted a more probing tone on ‘Binaural.’

And after some mid-‘90s issues with group democracy, Pearl Jam started sharing writing and other duties with their previous album, 1998’s ‘Yield.’ They took a similar line on ‘Binaural,’ which celebrates its 13th anniversary today. Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard and Eddie Vedder all contributed songs to the album, building on each other’s ideas and frameworks as they settled into the studio.

The result is one of Pearl Jam’s most subtle and difficult albums. Fans expecting the monster rock crunch of ‘Ten’ and ‘Vitalogy,’ or even ‘Yield,’ were probably a little disappointed to hear the band pursue its artsier instincts on many of ‘Binaural’’s songs. And the ones that did kick in with a bit of Pearl Jam’s mid-‘90s-era fury – particularly ‘Light Years,’ ‘Nothing As It Seems’ and ‘Grievance’ – are restrained, resting on tamer versions of the radio anthems they were making only a half-decade earlier.

‘Binaural’ still managed to debut at No. 2. But it didn’t stay on the chart long, and it was the first Pearl Jam album to not sell a million copies (it did go gold, though). ‘Nothing As It Seems’ climbed into the Top 50, reaching the Top 10 on both the rock and modern-rock charts. The band launched a tour not long after the record’s release, recording nearly every show for CD release. In all, more than 70 live albums came out in 2000 and 2001, with several of them making the chart (only their homecoming gig in Seattle cracked the Top 100, though). Two years later, Pearl Jam returned with ‘Riot Act,’ delving deeper into experimental and existential sounds. ‘Binaural’ was merely the beginning.

Listen to Pearl Jam’s ‘Binaural’

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