Thanks to the sexy lyrics and suggestive actions from artists like Jimi Hendrix and other guitar gods, the instrument has come to be a metaphor for virility (and the body parts that go along with it). Therefore, it is understandably humorous to hear that Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder recorded an entire album based around the ukulele, the smaller and higher pitched cousin to the guitar. Immature sexual connotations aside, the instrument still gets a bad rap for being used by prototypical tourist-baiting Hawaiian bands. Will this album be as gimmicky?
Right off the bat, the immediate answer is no. Vedder (a huge supporter of surf culture) strums the chordophone to produce a riff that suits his typically creaky baritone voice during “Can’t Keep.” The pitch may be high but the attitude of his playing is far from bright.
Then the second track happens.
“Sleeping by Myself” is another original, and it’s equally well-written as “Can’t Keep,” but Vedder’s ukulele playing doesn’t live up. The listener can’t help but think that the song is OK, but an acoustic guitar would deliver the instrumentals much more effectively. The same is the case for many of the tracks on “Ukulele Songs.”
There are some exceptions. Vedder does several cover tunes, and his versions of “More Than You Know” and “Tonight You Belong To Me.” Vedder’s accompaniment on ukulele suits them.
Based on the title of the album, Vedder didn’t intend to break any lyrical ground; he simply wanted to experiment with a uke. Hopefully now that he’s done it, he can get back to crafting a fuller album like his soundtrack to “Into the Wild,” or better yet, a new Pearl Jam album.