One of the most difficult things a successful artist can do is continue their success. You've reached the top. Now how are you going to stay there? It's difficult because if you change too much, you've "sold out." If you don't change, "everything sounds the same."
Pearl Jam has faced this since their sophomore album, "Vs.," came out 18 years ago. Their debut, "Ten," had skyrocketed them to unbelievable heights. They were dubbed the "best band in the world" by Rolling Stone. When "Vs." was released, it became the first record to sell over a million units in one week. They were on top.
But despite the immediate success, it was criticized. Where are the soaring solos of "Ten"? Where are the anthems? Why doesn't lead singer Eddie Vedder howl and sing? Why all the screaming? Two decades later, and the band still faces the same criticisms with every release. Why can't it be more like "Ten"?
Everyone has their own opinions, and that's great. But it's refreshing to see Vedder take a truly different approach with his latest solo effort. Some may find it gimmicky, but it's risky and it's unusual. The long-haired rocker, the one who once screamed and dove off balconies released an album of ukulele songs. Instead of worrying about recycling old sounds or evolving current sounds, he jumped off the creative cliff and didn't worry about what he'd land in.
As I say in my album review, this can be mistaken as Eddie getting old. But the whimsical and effortless songwriting on "Ukuele Songs" makes him sound younger than ever. It's carefree, it's fun. Pearl Jam has been leaning toward a more relaxed way of life these past few years, but it has never let go of its heavy-handed morals—a lot of it coming from Vedder.
There is a lot to learn from "Ukulele Songs." It's OK to try something completely different. It's OK to have fun. Is it easy for someone like Vedder to do such a thing? Absolutely. But it doesn't mean we can't take smaller steps toward what we want. And I plan on taking those steps.