Keith Richards did it. So did Slash. Even Neil Young managed to pull his untraditional voice together and reach success without Crosby, Stills and Nash. But Stone Gossard?
In a seemingly implausible solo effort, the Pearl Jam guitarist and co-founder has managed to step out from under the blanketing shadow of front man Eddie Vedder with the first official solo album released from a Pearl Jam member. Gossard proves on Bayleaf, an album that took seven years to complete, that there is more musicality to Pearl Jam than Vedder’s distinct vocals. Unfortunately, Stone is no Dave Grohl, and, sadly, the album lacks the intensity and quality of the Pearl Jam catalog. This combination leaves Gossard hung out to dry, kind of like Lisa Simpson performing with a broken reed while Homer drinks at Moe’s. But maybe Eddie would have wanted it that way.
The shiniest moments on the Pete Droge-produced-album are those few where the Pearl Jam influence is obvious. Past Gossard-penned tracks, such as “Mankind,” “No Way” and “Thin Air,” offer fans a refreshing break from the dysfunctional, sociopolitical discomforts of Vedder, but without the rest of the PJ team, Gossard is left with a disorganized, unfocused shell of an album.
First off, the ten-track album seems half-assed by Gossard’s diminished presence on several tracks. Instead, without any real explanation, former Green Apple Quick Step front man Ty Wilman unexpectedly takes the reins on the three most intriguing tracks, “Cadillac,” “Fend It Off,” and the first single “Unhand Me.”
Combining an overbearing number of guitars, pedals, percussion and background vocals, “Cadillac” light-heartedly compares women and cars.
“All the men are tailgating/ Cadillac, I’ll be your truest love/ I just hope their brakes are failing/ Cadillac, I hope your love’s for one,” crones Wilman.
The juxtaposition plays off a bad cliché, and unfortunately it’s not the only one. Lyrical annoyances, such as this women/car analogy dichotomy and the alternating of “believe” and “bay leaf” in the title track, play out like a bad English 101 creative writing exercise.
Courtesy of the liner notes, a rundown of the instruments used on the album’s second track, “Fits,” include drums, extreme drums, slide-wah guitars, clavinets, mellotrons and something ambiguously labeled a “panning random buzz guitar.” The stew is just too filling for one sitting.
“Pigeon,” by far the best song on Bayleaf, is also the simplest track. What makes it so enjoyable is that it epitomizes what Pearl Jam fans have always loved about Gossard. It is funky and good-natured, with a grunge-era guitar solo and stripped-down production.
One must ponder Gossard’s thought process after listening to the album. Maybe he is trying to make a point about his tastes and influences. Maybe Gossard wants to prove to the world, and to himself, that he does not need Eddie Vedder or a large rock outfit to enjoy playing the music he does. But it is apparent that, without his established name and the support of Pearl Jam’s record label Epic, Gossard probably wouldn’t have released this album.
When explaining the album earlier this year, Gossard said: “[It] represents the idea/concept of a child who doesn’t understand why there’s a hard old leaf in his pasta sauce, and only later comes to understand how that leaf imparts a special flavor/seasoning.”
It seems Gossard’s ideas are well intentioned, but the only real point he makes on Bayleaf is that he is more timid about stepping out from the shadow of his own hard old leaf, Eddie Vedder, than we thought.