I was recently watching a documentary about Pearl Jam, the American rock band (still on iPlayer if you’re interested). It was strange: the first time you hear Eddie Vedder’s voice you do a sort of aural double take. *Christ*. But in the end Pearl Jam lack a certain something and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with their output it’s somehow less than it ought to be. Years ago a friend of mine and I listened to their “Ten” album and decided that there wasn’t really much that could improve it, but now, probably 15 years later, it’s clear that we were wrong.
Not that you can dismiss the album in any way: it’s really good. The band themselves are good, too: Mike McCready’s an extraordinary guitarist and Vedder’s voice is like something a giant bear might come up with had it learned to speak human (then learned to sing well – I didn’t think this one through did I?). It’s something beyond the norm, and explains why the band became so successful so quickly. It was all just *there*, great, obviously great.
Sometimes it’s not that simple though. Sometimes that indefineable *it* is missing, and no amount of ability or longevity or anything else can give you it back. I’ll tell you how you know: Pearl Jam made an effort to be less ‘commercial’ in their sound and it sounded like they were making an effort to be less commercial in their sound, which to me was getting away from what they were good at. Contrast with Nirvana, who reacted against Nevermind’s over-production and commercial success with the implausibly good In Utero. Vedder’s attempt to get off the beaten track may have been a personal success but not a musical one; Cobain doing the same was an artistic triumph.
I don’t know what this is or why it happened, and after all it’s just a subjective judgement from someone who doesn’t know as much about these things as he thinks he does, but even so, I’m on to something here.
It’s why Fulham are so pleasant to watch at the moment, I think – there’s a primacy and recency effect in play here, I grant you – we ended the season in the best possible way – (how many dashes?!) but the team has just about enough of everything, in the following ways:
Much of this team has struggled together. Hangeland, Hughes, Dempsey, Murphy and Davies were all here in the bad times when we were all really glum. They bonded then and pulled this club through a terrible situation. We were with them every step of the way. We feel them, they feel us, we get them, they get us. They are Fulham players and deserve our respect and gratitude for their efforts. As QPR are finding, you can’t just buy a team. A team grows.
Beyond the relegation fun though, we went stratospheric, to a degree heretofore unimaginable. Mark Schwarzer and Damien Duff were part of the team that did this, too, so they’re in our hearts and minds as good eggs as well.
We’re still on about something that’s real about this team – there was a time not so long ago when we didn’t really know our players, we didn’t sing songs for them, we just watched them play. Now they are part of the club’s fabric. They are not Nickelback or Snow Patrol or some other lamentable excuse for a guitar band; they are our Nirvana, the best thing of its kind any of us will ever see or hear. Because in addition to the soul issues mentioned above there’s a new authenticity to the team’s play. Cast Roy Hodgson as Butch Vig, the man to do things the right way, but bring in Steve Albini or Scott Litt as Martin Jol, letting things go a bit, relinquishing a small amount of appropriate control for the common good and producing a team that can just be what it’s meant to be. Clint Dempsey is playing like a free man; Moussa Dembele is a talent so pure and exciting; John-Arne Riise looks like he’s never had so much fun on a football pitch. It’s real.
This is why today’s team is so satisfying. It has a core that Roy Hodgson nurtured and made us believe in, but now it is becoming true to itself, becoming even more than the sum of its parts, becoming something really spectacular.
Nirvana stopped there; Pearl Jam carried on Pearl Jamming around for a while. This Fulham’s probably not going to be this good again but like the legions of Pearl Jam fans who follow their band everywhere, I’m sure we’ve got much to look forward to even if we never produce another “Ten”.