Pearl Jam – Lost Dogs

Pearl Jam
Lost Dogs

If there was EVER a band to warrant one of these B-sides/rareties collections, it’s Pearl Jam – and after a long year of rumors and questionable release dates, the band has finally offered up Lost Dogs, a two-disc collection of everything from B-sides to remastered demo tracks. The band is known for releasing solid B-sides to its singles (as well as withholding perfectly acceptable material because the band members don’t feel that it fit the right ‘mood’ for whichever album they’re piecing together at any given time), so expectedly, this collection comes off as a pretty worthwhile investment of time and money for fans of the band.
Probably the most important thing about Lost Dogs is the fact that it doesn’t sound anything like a randomly tossed-together compilation CD. Most bands tend to just lump these sorts of CDs together chronologically, or, worse yet, by just tossing the songs in any random order to get them out to the public quicker. Thankfully, Pearl Jam avoids those pitfalls, and Lost Dogs comes off playing like two actual completely-realized full albums (instead of like a random pile of hackneyed, tossed-off tracks). This subtle little touch makes a huge difference in how this collection plays out. Furthering this concept is the fact that most of these tracks have been noticeably touched-up and re-mastered, giving the material an extra polishing that adds immensely to the album feeling.
The time-span covered by the tracklist here is, for the most part, well spread out (only 1994’s Vitalogy isn’t represented), with a whopping nine tracks devoted to tracks from the Ten/Vs era – a time-frame I somehow expected the band to gloss over. Oddly enough, though, to listeners that aren’t familiar with the band’s non-album material, it would be surprisingly hard at times to judge the ‘new’ material from the ‘old,’ thanks to the band’s studio re-touching.
The apparently well-guarded Vs. recording “Hold On” does a fine job here of stealing the show as the best balls-out rock song that didn’t make an album – when Eddie Vedder emotes, “Gave her life away / Put it in my pocket when it should’ve been framed,” it’s a stark reminder of exactly how emotionally raw and moving this band has the power to be at any given moment. No Code outtake “All Night” is another solid number – a straight-ahead rocker that wouldn’t have fit on that album, though it works in fine context here. Guitarist Stone Gossard’s “Fatal” (from the Binaural sessions) is a quality track built around a spooky and memorable Neil-Young-worthy acoustic guitar lick, while the guitar-drenched instrumental demo of “Brother” shows why the song could’ve potentially been one of Ten’s hardest rockers (had Vedder recorded anything resembling a coherant vocal track during the original sessions, that is).
One of the cooler things about this collection is that it includes a few catchy, almost-pop numbers that show off a side of the band rarely seen on record. Gossard’s “Don’t Gimme No Lip” is simple, dirty and infectiously catchy – dare I say that it might have been an even more capable inclusion on No Code than “Mankind,” and Vedder’s “U” starts off with a bit of brooding Pearl Jam misdirection before breaking into a four-chord pop melody (in the liner notes, Vedder claims to have written the song on a 10-minute drive, and that the song would’ve been more complex if the trip would’ve been longer).
Of course, this newfound pop side to the band is evened out by a few mournful-sounding numbers, namely the aforementioned “Fatal” and Jeff Ament’s “Other Side,” which carries a really eerie and unexplainable vibe that makes it stand out (perhaps it’s the fact that Vedder’s vocals come off very disconnected, as if he’s trying to convey so much emotion that everything seems numb). “Footsteps,” originally coupled with “Yellow Ledbetter” on an import CD single, retains all of the stark beauty and wonder that a track about the lovesick ramblings of an imaginary killer on death row can have, perhaps partly courtesy of a harmonica track that wasn’t present on the original release. Vedder’s “Dead Man” is quite possibly the most tragically beautiful recording here, though, a mournful number that representes the mind-set of a man on Death Row (done in a much less sensationalized manner than “Footsteps”). It’s a damn shame that this song didn’t make either No Code or the soundtrack to the movie Dead Man Walking (on which Vedder had a duet with the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan).
Some of the production touch-ups are slight (i.e., the harmonica track in “Footsteps”), though long-time fans familiar with these tracks will be apt to pick up the changes quickly. The version of “Wash” included here sounds like an entirely different, much more bluesy (and much better) take than what was originally released on the “Alive” single, while this version of “Alone” is different than two previous versions (coming off more powerful than the take on the “Go” single, but still lacking a bit compared to the original recording from the band’s Mookie Blaylock demos). The aforementioned “Brother” loses a vocal track and gets washed over in extra guitar tracks (a very good thing), while “Dirty Frank” loses it’s original semblance of insanity, courtesy of the shedding of a few winding guitar tracks and about a minute and a half of admittedly hilarious Vedder rambling (though the band’s homage to the “Theme From Shaft” remains intact, thankfully).
Still, as one would expect from a collection of non-album tracks, there are some real CLUNKERS here. Both of the tracks Pearl Jam contributed to the Music For Our Mother Ocean compilations are needlessly included (“Gremmie Out of Control” and the Jack Irons-sung “The Whale Song”), and while Jeff Ament’s delusionary tale of idol worship, “Sweet Lew,” has a great story behind it, the song itself falters badly. The band makes up for that, however, with the inclusion of “Yellow Ledbetter” and “Last Kiss,” a pair of bona-fide radio hits that were previously only available in CD-single or compilation form.
Probably the strongest possible statement the band could have made with Lost Dogs occurs in a four-minute flourish in the form of an unlisted track at the end of the second disc. “4/20/02” is a scathing Vedder lyrical commentary that mourns the senseless death of Layne Staley while also ripping nameless musicians that ape Staley’s vocal stylings. Here is a set of 30 mostly solid songs that Pearl Jam has spilled out over the course of almost 13 years, and still, the most emotional piece on the record is the most recently recorded. Vedder’s mourning is sharp and pointed, but emotional all the same (“So sing just like him, f@ckers / It won’t offend him – just me / Because he’s dead”), showing that even after seven studio albums, there’s still a lot of life left in the band.
The thing about Lost Dogs is that it’s a very good album for Pearl Jam fans. I seriously doubt that this collection will convert a ton of new fans to the band, though I would expect that casual fans who wouldn’t buy other Pearl Jam records would be more likely to buy this, thanks to the inclusion of “Yellow Ledbetter” and “Last Kiss.” Either way, Lost Dogs works out as two solid enough discs with far more highlights than low lights.