Thursday, August 12, 2010

August 12: Pearl Jam, "Spin The Black Circle"

Artist: Pearl Jam
Song: "Spin The Black Circle"
Album: Vitalogy
Year: 1994

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While the key to the success of an overwhelming majority if bands can be summed up by the thought of perfecting a single sound and deploying it in a handful of different ways, there is certainly something to be said for bands that have proven an ability to excel in a number of different musical formats.  However, if a band is seen as one of the pioneers of a specific sound, it can make it virtually impossible for the band in question to successfully expand their musical horizons, as their fanbase if often unwilling to "follow" them on such musical exploration.  Then of course, there is the one band that has seemed to do nothing but break musical rules their entire career, and it is much the reason why they remain one of the most highly respected bands in the world.  From fighting the greed of ticketing agencies to refusing to compromise their musical vision on behalf of their record label or fans, few bands have shown more artistic integrity over the past two decades than Seattle legends, Pearl Jam.  Making their name as one of the most important bands of the "grunge explosion," in many ways, they almost immediately began attempting to distance themselves from this single-genre classification, as musically, their sophomore record was far more a rock affair, and in many ways, the band proved early on that they were going to make the records they wanted to, regardless of sales or external pressure.  It is due to this ethos that Pearl Jam was able to create their misunderstood masterpiece of a third record, 1994's Vitalogy, and one can easily see the album as the transition from their "old" sound to the various styles they would explore over the next decade.  Though the record is packed with phenomenal songs, few define the true essence of the band on all fronts better than the albums' lead single, 1994's raging rocker, "Spin The Black Circle."

When it comes to songs that set the tone early, few songs in history can compare to "Spin The Black Circle," as the track opens with a high-speed riff that crashes into an all out guitar assault from the team of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready.  Over the decades, the duo have proven to be one of the most talented musical pairings in history, and on this track, their power and precision is brilliantly highlighted.  The way they play off one another on "Spin The Black Circle" is nothing short of stunning, as they trade-off leads and then when playing together, bring a sound that is wonderfully intimidating as well as inviting.  Within seconds, drummer Dave Abbruzzese crashes in, and the spirit and energy that is quickly present on the song instantly places it in a unique spot between hard rock and punk rock.  In many ways, it is this element that captures the essence of Pearl Jam, pulling from their wide range of influences, and it is also their ability to pull of songs like this that proved they were far more than "just a grunge band."  Rounding out the bands' sound on "Spin The Black Circle" is the lightning-fast bass work of Jeff Ament, and it is his performance here that gives the song a slightly dark mood, as the bassline is rapid-fire and very hostile in nature.  The sense of urgency found within the music on this track was slightly alluded to on their previous records' song, "Go," and yet it is "Spin The Black Circle" that comes off as a far more complete and absolutely mesmerizing musical creation.

While it is easy to make the case that it is impossible to match the overall energy that is created by Pearl Jam on "Spin The Black Circle," as he has proven throughout his career, there is no style or sound in which singer Eddie Vedder cannot perform and excel.  Much like his band-mates, on this track, Vedder completely cuts loose, and the full power and range of his voice are on brilliant display throughout the entire song.  Overflowing with emotion and energy, Vedder's performance on "Spin The Black Circle" remains one of the most impressive of his entire career, and it is his ability to walk the line of vocal chaos that has made him such an icon.  This mood of walking on the edge of "losing it" is nothing short of stunning, and one can feel Vedder's deep connection with the words he penned for the song, and the lyrics stand as one of the finest and most fitting odes to ever be recorded.  Though "Spin The Black Circle" can be interpreted in a number of ways, the most obvious is that of Vedder paying tribute to that which all music lovers can relate: the feeling of playing your favorite record.  Drilling down to the details of the process and then celebrating it in a form like nothing else, Vedder perfectly sums up a true music lovers' feeling with the line, "...oh, my joy...only you deserve conceit..."  He also gives a nod to those who understand the proper volume at which many songs must be played when he sings, "...turn me up...won't turn you away..."  Though the entire song can also be easily interpreted as a drug metaphor, one can re-focus this as the fact that for many people, music itself is a drug, and on "Spin The Black Circle," in both the lyrics and emotion behind the singing, Eddie Vedder makes this similarity more clear than anyone else in history.

Truth be told, though in retrospect it may not be the most memorable track for most from their Vitaolgy record, it was the only song from the album to chart in the "Top 100," and "Spin The Black Circle" also won Pearl Jam their first (and only) Grammy Award, taking the 1996 prize for "Best Hard Rock Performance."  On all fronts, the song represents everything that has helped Pearl Jam to endure over the decades, as the raw power and straightforward production make "Spin The Black Circle" nothing short of a rock and roll classic.  Looking back at the time in which the record was made, the fact that the song (as well as the entire album) was so far removed from their legendary "grunge" debut, one can only imagine the frustration the band was met with from their record label, as Pearl Jam was set on proving that they were not going to make any album twice, and were going to continue to record and release the songs that they enjoyed the most.  It is this purposeful diversity in sound and style that has enabled Pearl Jam to remain relevant over the decades, as they have avoided being pigeon-holed into a single genre, and built themselves into one of the greatest rock bands in the history of recorded music.  Throughout Vitaolgy, the band explores a wide range of emotions with often unsettling honestly and depth, and it is these qualities, as well as the exceptional musicianship that makes the entire album sound just as fresh today as it was when it was first released.  Capturing the emotion of true love and the release which music can provide like no other song ever recorded, Pearl Jam has rarely released a more engaging or powerful song than one will find within their magnificent 1994 single, "Spin The Black Circle."

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