A set of Polaroid photos. On the upper side the title "Pearl Jam – No Code" is written in red letters.

2020 Album Draft- Round 8- Pick 6- MSJADELI selects- Pearl Jam- No Code.

Who knew it would be so difficult to decide on the draft pick selections! There are some that cannot be left out. For me one of them is Pearl Jam. The issue then is which one. I’ve got most of their studio albums (except for the newest and one other,) several live albums, and two videos (PJ20 and Let’s Play Two.) There is not a bad one among the bunch! It had to come down to which one do I listen to the most. It was a tossup between “Binaural” and “No Code.” I went with “No Code” because the music and lyrics from it have ingrained themselves into my being. My island experience would be unsatisfactory without “No Code.”

It is their 4 th studio album, released 8/27/96, and the first album with new drummer, Jack Irons (who has since been replaced by the now long-time drummer Matt Cameron – who was Soundgarden’s drummer previously – who joined PJ in 1998 on the next album’s [Yield] tour.) The previous album, Vitalogy, a blockbuster hit that went 5x platinum in the US and AUS and 6x platinum in CAN and gold in the UK, set a high bar for “No Code.” Many fans want “more of the same” when it comes to their favorite bands, and for many fans, “No Code” was not more of the same. If anything, the band tried harder to reach out into diversity and put its finger on the pulse of world beats. It was the first PJ album not to reach multi-platinum status in the US at single platinum, even though it did reach 2x in AUS and CAN and gold in the UK.

[[[[Quote: Rolling Stone staff writer David Fricke gave No Code four out of five stars, saying that the album ” is abrupt in its mood swings almost to the point of vertigo. ” He praised the album as ” the kind of impulsive, quixotic, provocative ruckus that has become rare in a modern-rock.mainstream ” and added that ” No Code basically means no rule books, no limits and, above all, no fear.

Reading through material about the making of the album, in addition to the stress of the Ticketmaster boycott going on during the Vitalogy tour, there were myriad other tensions permeating the atmosphere of the recording sessions. Possibly the biggest one was that up until this point lead singer Eddie Vedder was the sole songwriter and he was approaching burnout; while at the same time there was a feeling of discontent with the other band members because of that same control Eddie had over the band. From what I gather, this album is where some of the power imbalance shifted, where some of the pressure was taken off of Eddie’s shoulders and the other band members felt like some of the power was being shared with them. It was the first time another band member other than Vedder contributed lyrics. PLAYLIST

PLAYLIST 13 songs, 49:37 minutes

Sometimes – very small, very humbling musical opening, with very big lyrics: “ Large fingers pushin’ paint… You’re God and you got big hands… The colors blend… The challenges you give man… ” *****

Hail Hail – as the music of the first cut is subdued, so the grunge rock distortion of Hail Hail contrasts with it. It does slow down into a gentle bridge. The emotion of a troubled relationship, a ‘ship about to break on the rocks, is felt throughout it. *******

Who You Are – Irons’ beats dominate the song, who said, “t he poly-rhythmic drum pattern for the song was inspired by a Max Roach drum solo that he heard at a drum shop when he was eight years old.” Eddie plays an electric sitar on it which lends a middle-eastern flavor. Add in chanting metaphysical lyrics and you have major artistic experimentation going on. *******

In My Tree – more interesting drum patterns on this. The lyrics talk about getting away from the media frenzy while up in a tree. In the PJ20 video, which celebrates 20 years of PJ music, it shows Eddie in a literal tree house (deluxe of course!) where he goes to write music. I’m not sure when and where the tree house was built, but at the time of the album, I read where Eddie was spending a lot of time in Hawaii, away from his ‘adoring fans’ i.e. stalkers.

* Smile – very simple lyrics, which were taken from a note that one of The Frogs gave to Eddie. It has a lovely melody on the bridge. Eddie with a harmonica and McCready and Ament’s support.****

* Off He Goes – one of my favorites on this album and one that resembles more than a few people who have been a part of my world at one time or another. I was surprised to learn that it is autobiographical, as Eddie sees himself as a terrible friend to others. I love every aspect of it, the lyrics, melody, singing, musicianship of the guitar flourishes.*****

Habit – I like the way the previous song is a poignant lull before it gets down to this hard rock screamer about a sellout. The chorus, “ I never thought you’d habit ” can mean so many things. To me it feels like drug addiction, but selling out can take many forms. *******

Red Mosquito – Another one of my favorite songs on the album. Mike McCready’s guitar buzzes like the pesky mosquito that would drain every last drop of our blood out if it could. Impossible to drown out the guitar, which mimics the temptations and distractions in life that will suck the life out of us if we allow them to. The song is supposedly about when Eddie was hospitalized on tour in June of 1995 for food poisoning, but its about way more than that if you listen.*****

Lukin – The song is very intense and very short. I did find the following quote about it: [[[[[Quote: “ Vedder had a stalker chick that would come by his house that was freaking him out. He would start to avoid his house after a while, so he would just come by my place. Vedder’d come over and we’d sit ‘round the kitchen and drink and stuff. He would talk about his stalker problem a little bit, but I would just blow it off. It was just drunken talk, throwing darts, having fun. There’d be other people there, sometimes four or five of us. Just me and Eddie and our wives and mutual friends like [then Mudhoney manager] Bob Whittaker. The Pearl Jam song ‘Lukin’ is about how my kitchen’s a sanctuary for him. Also, I was giving him shit about all their songs being too long. That inspired him to make ‘Lukin’ a one-minute song. I’ve always flipped him shit. Never let him be the rock star that he is.” —former Mudhoney/Melvins bassist Matt Lukin (outtake from the forthcoming book Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge)]]]]] ******

Present Tense – low-key and reflective, the message is to allow yourself to forgive yourself and to stop living in the regrets of the past. “ Makes much more sense to live in the present tense. ”*****

Mankind – written and sung by Stone Gossard. It’s got a very different, tasty flavor than the other tunes on the album. The lyrics are cryptic and feel like an attack or complaint. The music is distorted and pulsing. It’s a nice palate cleanser.******

I’m Open – spoken word with spacey music surrounding it. There is distinct prayer feeling to it, a calling-in of positive energy.*****

Around the Bend – This is said to be a lullaby that Eddie wrote for drummer Jack Irons to sing to his son. The gentle melody and lyrics are a wonderful low-key exit to the emotionally intense album that is “No Code.”


  1. Thanks for bringing the 90’s into the draft. Apparently 1996 was about the time I stopped paying attention to new music by people other than Neil Young and Bob Dylan, and I missed out on a lot.

  2. A great writeup again Lisa! Seems like a good album, I know about four of the tracks (particularly ‘Who You Are’ and ‘Hail Hail’ which got airplay) and the concept of the album – not fitting into a mold – is solid. Jack Irons is one fine drummer too. Ten was the only album of theirs I had, but I still like that one and always tipped my hat at Eddie for changing the sound up and turning out a lot of music. The cover though — boy, if that isn’t a blatant ripoff of U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’… another of your picks, I believe!

    • Very similar yes, and if you go to wikipedia you’ll find a hidden picture if you look at the image with the folding cd case opened up. One or maybe two of the PJ members got on a polaroid kick and they used some of them for the cover. I think McCready also published a book of the polaroids. Thank you and glad you enjoyed the write-up. Yes on Irons, he had a big impact on the band in the short time he was with them.

  3. “There’s not a bad one among the bunch”. I feel that way about so many musicians I like. PJ certainly fits that. I’d be happy with this record. They just make solid music. One of the things that attracted me to this band was the restraint/release thing. You just never knew when they were going to explode but you knew it was coming. I like hard edge music and there’s plenty here. Solid choice.

  4. Welcome Pearl Jam, to the draft! I’m not familiar with this album, but enjoyed the samples and your written review. I have their Rearview Mirror compilation. They are beloved in my hometown of Lawrence, KS, because in 1992 they honored a free concert date that was booked right before they exploded in fame. It goes without saying that I think highly of Eddie and the band. I wasn’t able to go to that concert, and didn’t end up seeing them live until the 2010s, but it was worth the wait. You’re making me get out Rearview Mirror and play it today, and sample some more from No Code.

    • So glad you like them, Diana, and very happy to hear your hometown thinks of them fondly. PJ has done a lot of philanthropy over the years, including playing benefits and founding the Vitalogy Foundation in 2006. The music is just the beginning of why I love them so much. Cool on Rearview Mirror 🙂

  5. I knew you would be the one that would bring them to the draft. Great write up Lisa and it’s really cool that they are still going strong. I know around 3-4 songs off of this album from hanging around my musician friends…

    • PJ is one of those bands whose favorite songs are like constellations in the cosmos of their work but aren’t confined to just one area of the sky. How is that for a metaphor? Vedder has a lot of songwriting talent and is best at his most tender. I have to agree Irons is a danged good drummer. I wonder what happened where he left so soon? Glad you like this one 🙂

  6. A wonderful write-up Lisa. Like so many of the bands many have chosen for this Album Draft series, I’ve not followed Pearl Jam very closely, though I have liked every song of theirs that I’ve ever heard. I need to get with the program and give this and more of their albums a listen. I’m still catching up on all the grunge and rock music from the 90s that I missed hearing because I’d narrow-mindedly decided early on that I hated it. Stupid me.

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