Monday, December 9, 2013

The Great Pretender - Even Flow by Pearl Jam

Hello and welcome back to Another Flavor! Last week I mentioned that the format for this blog will change starting this week. Well, it is now changed. What will it be like now? I'm glad you asked.

Monday (that's today!): A post about a music video. Analysis, reviews, jokes. You may recognize this as the format that the blog has had since the beginning.
Tuesday: Twosday. I will look at two music videos with something in common.
Wednesday: This will be the same as Monday, a post about a music video. This is still the meat and potatoes of the blog, but I'm adding some other vegetables and exotic spices on the other days.
Thursday: Sartorial Sursday. You know how people in music videos wear clothes? Frequently these clothes are ridiculous. On Satorial Sursday I will examine a person's clothes and we can all talk about it.
Friday: Free-for-all Friday. This is whatever I want. It could be another post about a music video. It could be a best-of list. It could be pictures of ham sandwiches, each more delicious than the last, until the final picture looks so good that you eat your computer screen.

Okay, so now you know what to expect. Good? Good.

Let's get down to business, then. Today is Monday, the day of the moon, the day, therefore, of menstruating women. So I will be writing about a music video featuring a bunch of dudes with long hair playing a song called Even Flow.

We frequently use the word "pretentious". I certainly do, anyways, because I am a huge asshole. Normally we mean someone trying to seem artier or smarter than they really are. At its core, though, pretension is about pretending to be someone or something you are not. Pearl Jam was pretending in a big way in this video.

Pearl Jam, along with Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden, is a grunge band that became popular in the first wave of that genre around 1991 (oh god, I sound so pretentious!). Grunge is considered a reaction to 1980s metal. Bands like Cinderella, Ratt, and Motley Crue (please mentally insert a bunch of umlauts) were considered too showy; all surface and no substance. Those "hair metal" groups were open about wanting to be as famous as possible. They put entertaining the audience above artistic concerns. The grunge bands rejected this. They wore boring clothes, had boring onstage demeanor, and rejected the role of the rock star.

The most famous example of this rejection of 1980s metal was when Kurt Cobain appeared on MTV's Headbanger's Ball in a dress.

He was making fun of MTV and metal in general.

Pearl Jam were coming from this same place for their video for Even Flow:

The video opens with the singer shouting, "This is not a TV studio. Josh, turn these lights out. It's a fucking rock concert!" This happens over the sound of a cheering crowd. We're supposed to think that Pearl Jam rejects the idea of making a music video and just wants to play live like the punk rock purists they are. But it isn't a rock concert, it is a music video. The next thing that happens is a recording of the song starts playing and the band pretends to play along to it.

This is pretentious. Pearl Jam are pretending to be punk rock rebels, but they are playing the MTV game of making a music video to promote their album. There is absolutely nothing wrong with music videos or promoting yourself, obviously I write a whole blog about music videos so I think videos are important. But if the theme of your music video is that your band is made of rebels who don't make music videos then you are trying to fool somebody. To see how a band acts if they think music videos are bullshit take a look at the music videos of The Replacements. Pearl Jam is not like that. Pearl Jam wants to become super famous for not trying to be super famous. They are making a music video of themselves pretending to not want to make a music video. It is laughable, in a way.

The pretension runs throughout the music video. First, see what the singer is wearing.

He is wearing a flannel shirt, which is the uniform of the grunge movement. The flannel shirt is practical and unglamorous. He is simultaneously wearing shorts, though. The shorts indicate that the flannel shirt is not needed for warmth but for fashion. There is no function difference between that shirt and the singer of Cinderella's clothing here:

Pearl Jam: You are wearing outfits. Don't deny it. It is even clearer when we look at the bass player.

That is one ridiculous hat. It combines the stupidity of a backwards hat with the poofiness of a rasta beanie. Awesome.

More desperate than this, though, is when the singer climbs up a wall.

We are supposed to believe that he is engaging in spontaneous, wild behavior. I really doubt that anything here is spontaneous.

He jumps off, just like we expect him to.

And lands with his arms out like a rock and roll Jesus.

He is coming to save us from the mundane, pedestrian rock we are used to. But is he any different? Of course not. Just more pretentious.

There are a couple of other things I find funny about the video. One is in the second verse where there is a flashy guitar fill. What do they show? This:

That's the wrong guitar player! He's not playing a fill at all.

For the next fill they get the right guy, but his fingers are not moving in sync with the playing.

It really isn't that hard to match the video to the sound, but music video directors can't play guitar and can't be bothered to ask someone who does. So they just show any shot of someone playing guitar and don't worry about it.

The bad thing about this video is that this song is actually pretty good. At their best, Pearl Jam are like a less sex-obsessed Red Hot Chili Peppers. They can be very groove oriented and the verses of this song have a slightly funky feel. The bass player in Pearl Jam is excellent (just like in Red Hot Chili Peppers) and it really helps the music push. This song is almost danceable. So it's a little frustrating that rather than making a video like the one for Give It Away they make this pretentious piece of shit. 

Man, why am I so angry? I think there's something wrong with me. It's just these music videos, I want to love them so much.


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