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Playlist for a Trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix

December 20th, 2006 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

First, start off strong with a little Beethoven. Or a lot of Beethoven, depending on how you quantify it. His 2nd and 4th piano concerti (concertos?) will put you in the mood for the impending drive. It’s important to get the trip started on the right foot, so what better place to turn than the majestic, stirring and passionate works of the master?

Be warned: Beethoven can be a little draining. After all, it takes work to listen to and enjoy. You’ll need to relax for a while. May I suggest the timeless (for reasons other than Beethoven’s) Going Public by that legendary Aussie group Newsboys? It’s mindless. It’s trite. And it’s terrible. It’s perfect for our purpose of having fun while getting away from LA. You’ll laugh at the wanna-be techno beats, and the awful lyrics. It’s aged about as well as an open bottle of Two-Buck Chuck. Is there a CD that’s aged worse? Not that you’ll listen to on this trip–you can only take so much.

But the trip down memory lane has been fun, so why not continue it? Has Pearl Jam aged as badly as Newsboys? You hope not–you’re scared to find out. And then you put in Yield, starting at the bottom of their discography. It didn’t sell as well as the others, but it still sounds good. “Given to Fly,” “Wishlist,” and
“All those Yesterdays” will put you in a happy melancholy stupor that is only fitting for grunge and driving. While the screaming persists in some songs–I never enjoy Vedder when he is unintelligible–much of it is melodic, smooth and downright interesting. Now that you’re finally beyond the bulk of the traffic, you can relax a little bit.

You’re hope is up now–will the other Pearl Jam cd’s be just as good? You turn to Vitalogy, continuing to skip over the screaming. “Better Man” sounds better than ever. “Courderoy” is classic. But you’re really surprised by the richness of “Nothingman.” The 6/8 times grooves, and Vedder’s vocals are perfect for the depressing, yet enchanting tune. You listen to it twice–it’s just that good.

Now simultaneously enthused by returning to the old wine of Pearl Jam, and depressed by their lyrics, you turn to No Code. You probably haven’t listened to this one much–it has very fewer radio songs than some of their others. But there is some good stuff here–“Who You Are” is perfectly enjoyable. “Around the Bend” is a fitting ballad ending to a mildly more optimistic and hopeful album. But by this point, you’re borderline overdosed on Pearl Jam and about to move on. It’s all starting to sound the same.

But then you put in Ten–their first album–and it reminds you why Pearl Jam was the best of the grunge bands. Lyrically, they are far more mature than Nirvana. Musically, they were far more talented. It begins to emerge that for early Pearl Jam, Mike McCready’s guitars held a more prominent position than during their later albums. “Even Flow” ends on a Hendrix-like guitar solo, which occurs several times on the album and is noticeably lacking in later albums. If Going Public was an Edsel, Ten is a Rolls Royce. Of the albums you’ve heard in your car, only Yield approximates Ten’s staying power.

You’re almost to Phoenix–not much time left. It’s been an interesting journey through Pearl Jam–you’re a more mature, more astute listener then you were 10 years ago, and at the end of the trip you are delighted to discover that much in Pearl Jam holds up to careful scrutiny. But you’re also out of good music, and realize that you need to buy some more. Good thing Christmas is coming.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.