The story of Christopher McCandless as told in 2007’s Into The Wild is one of the rare great films of 21st century cinema. Every great movie also needs a great soundtrack to help carry the story; Eddie Vedder’s music for Into the Wild was perfect. The folky ballads sung by Vedder on his debut solo record mirrored the narrative of the film and played a huge in creating the vibrant life and soul of the story. With Ukulele Songs, Vedder continues a similar solo folk vibe but this time the guitar and mandolins are cast aside and it’s just Ved and his uke. The end results are next level.
With Pearl Jam, Vedder has never been afraid to get emotional, with grunge hits like “Black” becoming festival anthems. As a solo artist Vedder’s emotions are pinpointed with a penetrating directness, and the results on Ukulele Songs are some of the most disarming and stirring music he has ever created. The approach is simple, with open and honest lyrics which create a listening experience that is so personal and tangible that you can’t not feel it. It really hits you.
In many ways this album starts like Into the Wild: Part II. From the off, with the opening track “Can’t Keep”, Vedder strums around the ukulele with a haunting quality while observing, through his clear open lyrics that raise to trademark howls, that he won’t live forever and that he won’t wait for answers before reaching the ‘other side’. Then the voice of the record is established as it moves into heartache and loneliness. The narrative of the opening songs is like an outpouring of thoughts following a break-up. Then with “Goodbye”, Vedder wrestles to find some kind of closure, (‘And for what feels like the first time / I don’t know where you are tonight / I guess that this is goodbye’), as he sings both with a glowing fondness about a person who is no longer in his life and a hollow sadness to find himself in this predicament. The wounds are now fully open, and from the sixth track “Broken Heart” Vedder is truly wearing his bleeding heart on his sleeve. For the remainder of the 16 track album, Vedder has more self-penned songs about lost love and finding perspective, with covers of “Dream A Little Dream” and “Once In A While” and a duet with Cat Power on “Tonight You Belong to Me”.
Eddie Vedder’s second solo outing is a triumph. While Ukulele Songs does not have the benefit of a motion picture for visual cues, the simplicity and power in the delivery of the music is plenty enough to spark it’s own set of rich imagery. I found Into the Wild to be a record full of hope and cope, a crutch during a time of personal crisis, and to me Ukulele Songs plays like a sequel to this. The album has a voice that, despite all the heartache and loneliness, is ultimately positive and looking out on life with open arms. This is an inspired and inspiring record…. And I for one now want to own a uke!
Ukulele Songs is out today on Universal Records.
© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice
New music video for “Can’t Keep” from Ukulele Songs by Eddie Vedder