RIOT ACT is Pearl Jam''s most Buddhist album, and that''s a very good thing. I actually have no evidence that Eddie or any of the other band members are Buddhists, but some of the lyrics convey Buddhist insights, it seems to me. For instance the great opening...
RIOT ACT is Pearl Jam''s most Buddhist album, and that''s a very good thing. I actually have no evidence that Eddie or any of the other band members are Buddhists, but some of the lyrics convey Buddhist insights, it seems to me.
For instance the great opening track by Eddie Vedder, "Can''t Keep," which features Adam Kasper''s piano, includes the lines "I don''t live forever, you can''t keep me here," and "I will live forever, you can''t keep me here." Paradox, but either way we are leaving our bodies and our lives when we die. We certainly don''t live forever in any literal sense -- impermanence is the nature of reality. On the other hand, "I''ve lived all these lives... I will live forever." Reincarnation is hinted at, but it could simply mean that we live on through those we touch and the stories they tell. The singer also says "Forgive every being the bad feelings," an attitude of compassion and forgiveness. The song makes you think. It suggests a mystery, and an open-ness to change, and complete liberation.
"Cropduster," with lyrics by Vedder and music by Matt Cameron, is another great song. "Everyone is practicing... but this world is an accident. I was the fool because I thought I thought the world -- turns out the world thought me. It''s all the other way round, we''re upside down." This might sound grim to some, but the song ends on a very uplifting note, with the refrain "the moon is rolling round the world" and a sense of spiritual harmony and peace. For Buddhists there is no separate self or separate things at all -- all is interconnected, we are One. We are parts of a larger whole, the separate Ego is an illusion. In any event, it''s another great song.
Of course the best-known song from RIOT ACT is "I Am Mine," one of Eddie''s best ballads. The assertion of self here is classical Western individualism, not selfless Buddhism. But it is certainly compatible with a journey of self-discovery that might lead to selflessness down the road, a necessary step in jettisoning dogma and social conformity. A beautiful and powerful song.
The first six songs, culminating in "I Am Mine" are magnificent. They would make a 5-star EP. Unfortunately the same high quality is not maintained throughout the rest of the album. At first I was not impressed by "Love Boat Captain." Eddie''s lyrics are trite. But the song is emotionally powerful, and it works as part of the six-song opening. "Save You" is angry, an attempt to help a friend. "Ghost" is about moving on, about change. Impermanence. A great song by Jeff Ament and Vedder.
Eddie''s "Thumbing My Way (Back to Heaven)" is lovely, but not among my favorites. Matt Cameron''s "You Are," with Vedder co-writing the lyrics, is a great, funky, revolving riff. Like "Love Boat Captain" the music is more powerful than the lyrics, and "You Are" is a classic example of a song that could be about a lover, or it could be about God, or it could be about the Universe -- who is it who is "a tower of strength to me"? "You Are" implies something deep and spiritual, but does not dictate the interpretation to the listener. Cameron''s "Get Right" is one of the weak tracks. It''s loud, noisy, but doesn''t do it for me.
Now we come to the political portion of RIOT ACT. I wish these songs were more effective, I certainly agree with their sentiments. The best is "Green Disease," a great rocker by Eddie that condemns greed and asks those who believe "there can''t be better ways" to "feel this world with your heart and not your brain." "Help Help" by Jeff Ament does not impress me musically. The falsetto chorus of "tell me lies" doesn''t work like the falsetto "hallelujah" in "Do the Evolution" on YIELD. But the lyric is good -- following the election of Bush, and 9/11, and the subsequent wars, Ament says "the man they call my enemy, I''ve seen his eyes -- he looks just like me, a mirror." "Not my enemy, no, not my enemy -- don''t speak for me." Stone Goddard''s music for "Bushleaguer" is good, but I''m not that impressed by Eddie''s spoken-word poetry. The chorus "blackout weaves its way through the cities" seems to indict Enron, but that public-spirited corporation is not mentioned by name. "1/2 Full" by Vedder and Ament is OK, but the best part is the line "far from lights of a city, the elements they speak to me -- whispering that life existed long before greed, balancing the world on its knee..."
"Arc" is a stunning wordless vocal by Eddie. "All or None" rounds out RIOT ACT on a note of despair. A close examination of the lyric indicates that rather than a critique of the government or war, it is a self-critique, a realization that perfectionism can be paralyzing.
Though the overall album doesn''t maintain the same high level, the first part of RIOT ACT makes it one of my favorites among Pearl Jam records.