November 5, 2002
The Texans’ Jam
By Ric Sweeney
On November 12, Pearl Jam releases its terrific new album, Riot Act, which just happens to (sort of) coincide with the midpoint of the Texans’ season, making for one of those “dogs and cats, living together mass hysteria!” kind of moments that I simply cannot ignore.
With that in mind… I’ll be using the fifteen song titles from Riot Act like awards, handing them out to the various Texans that have made the first eight games of 2002 so unbelievably exhilarating. And frustrating. And awesome. And heartbreaking. And awesome.
But before we get to that, Riot Act really is a terrific album. Each time I pop it into my CD player, I become more and more convinced that I’m listening to a classic, an album destined for immortality. At the very least, Riot Act reaffirms that Pearl Jam is America’s most relevant, most important band. After N’Sync, of course.
All at once, it covers familiar, well-worn territory and blazes glorious new paths, leaving scorched earth in its wake. Every track is great, not a “skip” in the bunch. Even better, in this tumultuous time, Pearl Jam is daring enough to challenge the listener, asking questions, pointing fingers… lyrically, it’s as if the group stumbled upon some long lost, 1960’s well of inspiration. I can’t recall a band this mainstream making such a pointed and declarative political statement. Whether you agree with their politics or not, Pearl Jam definitely has something to get off their chest and for that alone, Riot Act deserves to be heard. In the immortal words of Kurt Loder, “Do try to catch ’em.” And with that, on to the song title midseason awards extravaganza thingymajig
1. Can’t Keep
The album’s haunting, slow burning first track goes to Jermaine Lewis. Hate to say it, because I’ve actually been surprised at how much I’ve appreciated various aspects of Lewis’ game, but there’s no way to justify his salary after this year. Not when Avion Black looks capable of putting up similar numbers and not when he’s a total liability on offense. I think Lewis sealed his fate against Cleveland with his fumble that led to a Brown touchdown. And doesn’t it say something that our biggest return this year occurred with Lewis on the sideline (Gaffney’s pass to Glenn against Jacksonville)?
2. Save You
A relentlessly infectious rocker about an unstable, one-sided relationship, Save You is, quite possibly, the album’s best song. And I’m giving the title to David Carr, who has spent much of the year picking himself up off of various turfs around the league because of a lackluster offensive line. Which is scary to watch because Carr has proven to have a wealth of talent and a limitless upside; I could not be more pleased with his performance to this point. So here’s hoping he’s able to save himself for when the games actually matter in a year or two.
3. Love Boat Captain
Battling Save You for title of “Best Song on the Album,” Love Boat Captain pays tribute to the nine fans killed at a 2000 Pearl Jam concert in Roskilde. Lead singer Eddie Vedder asks the Love Boat Captain to “take the reigns and steer us towards the clear.” Not to minimize the song’s power and importance, but isn’t that essentially what we asked Bob McNair to do back in October 1999? And looking back over his first three years as owner, honestly, can you find even one thing to complain about? He’s been more than we ever could’ve imagined.
The lone song that sounds directly influenced by the events of 9/11 (“Dad’s gone up in flames; but this ain’t no movie; this ain’t no book you can close”), and far and away, the toughest one to turn into an award, I’m giving Cropduster to Gary Walker. Follow me on this: the defense looked absolutely porous when it played without Walker in the preseason. And then, almost immediately upon his return, it seemed to get better. It’s like they sprinkled a little Gary Walker love all around and instantly made everything better I know, I’m reaching – let’s move on.
Another rocker, this one about standing idle while life passes you by, goes to the non-existent Tony Boselli, who will not suit up this year and has a dark cloud hanging over his future. Ryan Young’s return from injury seems to have stabilized the offensive line quite a bit, and it’s downright sad to think about what might have been if Boselli had been able to contribute this year. Get well soon, big guy.
6. I Am Mine
The album’s first single, which touchingly uses the tragedy of 9/11 to reaffirm that life is precious and should not be wasted, goes to offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, who seems to kind of go his own way when designing a game plan, flying in the face of what seems obvious and conventional. Or, as the song puts it, “I only know my mind; I am mine.” At times, Palmer’s off-kilter approach has worked well (Gaffney-to-Bradford), but he’s also left me scratching my head (dropping Carr back to pass in his own end zone at the end of the first half against San Diego).
7. Thumbin’ My Way
There’s only one person worthy of this poignant, Spingsteen circa Nebraksa-like tune, which searches for silver linings amid the world’s chaos and uncertainty, and that’s you, the Texan fan. As we sit through the seemingly endless penalties, the rookie mistakes, the inconsistencies and the blow-out losses to Cincinnati, just remember that “No matter how cold the winter, there’s a springtime ahead; I’m thumbing my way back to heaven.” It might not be the most enjoyable or direct journey, but Houston’s on the right track to greatness, and there are 8-to-10 teams whose fans would gladly trade places with you in a heartbeat (coughcoughDallascoughcough). Just remember that.
8. You Are
A celebration of one man’s tower of strength goes to, of course, Dom Capers. Contrast his steady hand to that, of, say, Dave Campo, who seems to get bent out of shape when his team loses the coin toss. As the song says, “Sometimes I burn like a dot on the sun; with no one knowing; but you’re keeping me strong, moving along with you; you are a tower, of strength to me; the darkening hour, sees light again.” Yep, Capers in a nutshell. I cannot stress how happy I’ve been with his performance; didn’t think it at the time, but I now think Charley Casserly hired the right guy.
9. Get Right
The album’s most infectious song goes to the still stagnant running game. It’s shown flashes, but it needs to stabilize and become a more integral part of this offense if there’s any hope of winning many games this year and next. Without it, Carr’s in trouble; teams will learn to take away the deep ball. I like the Wells-then-Allen rotation; I just wish we weren’t so predictable in using it.
10. Green Disease
An ode to the greed that’s infiltrated, and ruined, corporate America, all wrapped up in a jangly, toe-tapping pop confection, I give Green Disease to the Jaguars, Jets and Ravens for their salary cap deficiencies that allowed Houston to snare Tony Boselli, Seth Payne, Gary Walker, Marcus Coleman, Aaron Glenn, Jermaine Lewis and Jamie Sharper in the expansion draft. Walker, Glenn and Sharper all deserve legitimate Pro Bowl consideration, and Payne and Coleman have been stable and shown flashes. All in all, they’re a terrific foundation.
Riot Act‘s most peculiar song, a disjointed mesh of musical styles, goes to the offensive line. Not only does the line seem to be a disjointed mesh of different styles that remains a raw work in progress, but also, obviously, it could use some helphelp.
The most blatant and obvious example of Pearl Jam’s finger-pointing on Riot Act, Bu$hleaguer tells the story of an undeserving someone who nonetheless winds up in a position of power, and contains my favorite lyric on the album: “Born on third, thinks he hit a triple.” And it goes to Jay Foreman, whose back-to-back, bushleague penalties almost single-handedly sunk Houston’s chances of upsetting a beatable Bills team in week five. When we close the curtain on the 2002 season, I think we’ll look back at the Buffalo game as the one that got away.
13. 1/2 Full
This balls-out, bluesy rocker goes to Ryan Young, who missed nearly half the season after undergoing surgery in training camp. Think it’s a coincidence that the team’s only allowed 6 sacks in the two games Young has been able to start and finish?
The standard “song that’s not a song” that’s become a staple on all Pearl Jam albums, Arc is simply layers upon layers of Eddie Vedder’s voice being distorted, amplified, etc., to create a hypnotic-like chant that’s actually pretty cool. And it goes to Chad Stanley for his booming, high-arcing, hang time intensive punts that have rendered many an opponent’s return game moot. Remember when the punting game was a concern in the preseason? Me, either.
15. All or None
The album’s reflective closer about someone grappling with a perceived hopeless situation (in this instance, the inevitability of war) goes to Corey Bradford, who this year has either been all or none. He’s broken open games with his penchant for burning corners downfield but dropped way too many easy passes underneath to give Texan fans any hope that he’ll be anything more than a speedy, downfield threat, ala Alvin Harper.
Over the seasons’ first eight games, I’ve become very fond of the Texans, if not downright passionate, something I thought I’d struggle with all year, simply because everything was so new and not… well, decked out in Columbia Blue. Bring on the final eight games!
Ric Sweeney never knew soap made you taller. Pearl Jam Return to Houston Pro Football If you have a question, comment or suggestion, contact Ric Catch up on past installments of Quick Slant