Album Review: Eddie Vedder ‘Ukulele Songs’

If you go into Eddie Vedder’s latest album ‘Ukulele Songs’ expecting stripped back Pearl Jam songs, you’ll be disappointed. That’s hardly surprising. But if you go in expecting another ‘Into The Wild’ epic, you’ll also be disappointed. And that’s a little more surprising. ‘Ukulele Songs’ is somewhat of a mismatch as a record, with elements of ‘Into The Wild’s escapism, a Pearl Jam cover, plenty of love songs, guest vocalists,  and everything else in between. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though- instead it has resulted in an intimate record that appears somewhat as a stream of Eddie Vedder’s conscious and an expression of his desires as a solo musician at the current time.

Not any rock ‘n roll frontman could pull off a solo record like ‘Ukulele Songs’, but then Eddie Vedder isn’t just any rock ‘n roll frontman.

The album begins with the aforementioned Pearl Jam cover, Can’t Keep from the classic album ‘Riot Act’. Vedder doesn’t mess with the song too much, but there’s no real reason to anyway. If you wanted to hear a Pearl Jam classic played on a ukulele by the band’s frontman, then this song is for you. But ultimately that’s not really what I want from a Vedder solo album, so the remaining 15 songs (yes, 15) are of more interest to me.

Loneliness is the predominant feeling of the first half of the album. Sleeping By Myself is somewhat unremarkable until you hear Vedder sing “Forever be sad and lonely, forever never be the same”, which can’t help but stop you in your tracks somewhat. Similarly Without You, Goodbye, and Broken Heart are just as subdued and sad as their titles sound. You keep on waiting for Vedder’s optimism to shine through, but even when he’s singing something a bit more cheerful there is a decidedly bittersweet vibe to it. 

Things pick up with Satellite, which serves as the lead in to Longing To Belong, the first single of the album and easily the strongest song. The added sound of a cello gives that little bit of extra depth to the album that had seemed oddly lacking until this point, and it helps create the kind of song you want to listen to on a lazy rainy day, just like I am now. You’ve probably heard this track by now, but even if you don’t love it yet, just give it some time. It’s a grower, and it’s absolutely beautiful.

Hey Fahkah, which consists of Vedder swearing humorously after messing up a ukulele chord, should definitely be the next single, in all its eight second glory. You’re True finally gets some ‘Into The Wild’ style nature-lovin’ going on, opening with the line of “Lonely cliffs and waterfalls, if no-one sees me I’m not here at all”, but by the end of the song Vedder’s song-writing tendencies towards nature romanticism and personal relationships have somewhat mixed, and you’re not really sure whether he’s singing about the world around him or a person when he croons “You’re true”. Maybe that’s the point. 

‘Ukulele Songs’ is carried almost solely by Vedder’s voice. And while this is certainly not exactly a bad thing to hinge the success of an album upon, there’s also not a whole lot of variety here. If you’re not a fan of Vedder’s caramel growl, then you should probably look elsewhere. Sleepless Nights however does introduce another voice, and it is none other than the always-amazing Glen Hansard. The duet is simply beautiful, with the pair harmonising all the song’s vocals to magnificent effect.

The album finishes with a couple of love song covers, Tonight You Belong To Me (featuring Cat Power) and Dream A Little Dream. Combined the songs last for only slightly over three minutes, and that’s far too short for music this gorgeous. But then there are only two songs on the entirety of the album that last for longer than three minutes, so your favourite individual songs are likely to be fleeting, lending the album towards being listened to as a whole.

So yes, ‘Ukulele Songs’ is somewhat monotone and simple. But the latter is almost part of its charm. It’s the antithesis to a Pearl Jam album, as well as an opportunity for Vedder’s acoustic tendencies that have been visible in his Pearl Jam career since the start to come to the fore. While I can’t escape the feeling that pretty much every track of ‘Ukulele Songs’ would seem like a weak link if included in the ‘Into The Wild’ soundtrack, it is still a completely charming, enjoyable, fiercely intimate, and at times breathtakingly beautiful album. The music on display here is too inoffensive and too likable to be receiving the polarised reviews that it is.

But then ultimately, you’re either going to ‘get’ this album, or you’re not. And whether you do or not will depend in no small part on just how much you adore Eddie Vedder both as a person and as a musician, and, fittingly, on how much you enjoy ukulele songs. And I love them both.

4 Responses to “Album Review: Eddie Vedder ‘Ukulele Songs’”

  1. Nice review. You have this album already? Jealous! I’m still waiting for my copy to drop through the letterbox…

  2. FYI Can’t Keep was written on a Uke BEFORE Riot Act. It was originally a solo Vedder composition.

  3. There isn’t really an “in between” in this album. Every song starts off exactly like the previous song finished – and started.

    I’ve been and Eddie Vedder fan for almost 20 years, And I feel he’s a true modern rock legend,
    Yet – This album truly sux. On another level.
    It’s boring from beginning to end. Tiny moments of beauty, but the big “in between”,which is 90% of the album, is just….uninspiring for a change – coming from him.

  4. A beautiful record. As usual it takes a few spins but then almost every track hits home. 4 out of 5.

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