Going through the album “Ukelele Songs”, I pictured the main character shipwrecked and stranded on a paradise island (which is a lot like Hawaii), with nothing but memories and a ukulele. This character is tired of fighting against the waves, and now has chosen to accept his battle scars and be a part of the ocean.
So what do you do if this character is Eddie Vedder, one of the last surviving kings of grunge? Write a love letter album of course.
He begins with: “All this life like an ocean in disguise. I don’t live forever. You can’t keep me here.”
Most of us who grew up, and grow old(er) together with Pearl Jam are familiar with the band’s defiant sound and unflinching lyrics. It is not surprising that Vedder’s easy listening effort has received mixed reactions from his die-hard grunge fans.
“Ukelele Songs” is a complete departure from his signature Pearl Jam sound, but you can still find the surfer-songwriter within its heart.
There is a faint echo wave-worship of Given To Fly (1998) in Light Today, although latter is more resigned compared with the earlier, angrier song.
He declares: “I bleed but I won’t break. I saw the light today”.
The sound in this album is stripped bare off heavy productions. Vedder relied solely on the strength of his lyrics, vocals and a four-string ukelele.
There are 16 songs that are written like book chapters, which can be divided into two parts. The first half laments a huge loss. We hear the recurring themes of letting go and farewell to the past in Can’t Keep, Sleeping By Myself, Without You, Goodbye and the self-explanatory Broken Heart.
Vedder’s version of More than You Know is a beautiful country slow dance, a contrast to Billie Holliday’s jazz version in 1939. In Sleepless Nights, he repeated the old fashion croon again with Glen Hansard.
The second half of the album is more upbeat. Just when you start to give up hope on happiness, suddenly Vedder offers a glimmer of light with Satellite.
Longing to Belong, You Are True, Waving Palms and Light Today talk about acceptance, surrender and a second chance in love.
However, Vedder is at his best when he sings about sorrow. The album has a bittersweet ending with Billy Rose’s classic Tonight You Belong. His duet with Cat Power is catchy and innocent, with a tinge of sadness.
The “Ukelele Songs” tosses your emotions around like waves. If you don’t resist it too much, the album will grow on you.
GLUE RATINGS: ★★★★☆
THUMBS UP: Sleeping By Myself Tonight, Broken Heart, Light Today, Tonight You Belong.
Album: Ukelele Songs. Artist: Eddie Vedder. Released: May 31, 2011. ℗ 2011 Monkeywrench, Inc.