Pearl Jam’s Yield was released on February 3rd, 1998. To coincide with its 25th anniversary, we’re republishing this feature, which was originally posted in 2018.
Studies in human development depict a person’s life as a series of crises to be negotiated and, for lack of a better word, mastered before moving on to the next challenge. Experts argue that if someone fails to come to terms with a particular phase in a healthy and productive manner, they run the risk of developmental paralysis and missing out on the stages that come afterward. For some reason, this information from a bygone professorial career crept into my mind while I listened to Pearl Jam’s Yield over and over again this past week. I wondered, do similar hurdles exist for rock bands? Because Yield always felt like a daunting hurdle cleared to me — a clear division between who Pearl Jam are now and who they once were.
Several of the acts Consequence has celebrated over the years seem to have made that leap from adolescence to young adulthood and later to middle age. Productivity may slacken, breakup rumors may periodically surface, and hiatuses of multiple years may come and go, but bands like Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Radiohead, and even studio feet-dragging outfits like Tool seem destined to carry on well into old age.
The late Erik Erikson, a pioneer in human development, may have posited that the stability demonstrated by these bands stems from them being comfortable with themselves, secure in their relationships, and content with their standing in the music world. Hence, when it’s time to plug in again, the band members are in a healthy space to create, contribute, and collaborate rather than backslide into the behaviors that cause an inordinate number of bands to whither long before their time.
None of this is meant to make an academic study of the longevity of rock bands, but it’s perhaps worth considering that the difference between a band burning brightly or burning out prematurely could be this idea of discovering a new type of maturity in the midst of crisis. And considering all the mounting tensions that consumed Pearl Jam prior to recording Yield, it makes the record seem like a clear-cut resolution of the destructive behaviors and problems that had plagued the group and threatened to cut their career short. The album feels not like a coming of age but, for this band, a coming of middle age and the first leg of the rest of their run together as a veteran act.
Pearl Jam might be the most dependable, well-oiled American touring band around these days, but that’s light years from the tumult of the group’s earliest days, which included, among other trials, rising from the ashes of a fallen friend and bandmate. Less than three years after Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had buried both Andrew Wood and their rock star dreams as Mother Love Bone, the two found themselves at the unpredictable epicenter of the grunge explosion as members of Temple of the Dog, the fictional band Citizen Dick in Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-promoting Singles, and the multiplatinum-selling grunge band Pearl Jam.