Pearl Jam

Lost Dogs

(Epic; 2003)

By David M. Goldstein | 30 December 2007

14-year old music fans have no idea how good they have it these days. Ten years ago the only things I was able to use the Internet for were text based bulletin boards and e-mail via the Prodigy service (a clunky predecessor to AOL, which would soon be overrun into obscurity by the latter). Instead of being able to use any array of file sharing programs to acquire Pearl Jam B-sides, my friends and I were forced to seek out those $30 import CDs for a taste of pseudo-legendary songs such as "Wash", "Footsteps", and "Dirty Frank", all of which are included on Lost Dogs. Hailing mostly from tiny record companies in Italy, such CDs usually featured hideously makeshift album art (lots of orange), a handful of "rare" live tracks probably ripped from a radio broadcast, the aforementioned B-sides, and maybe one or two tracks that weren't even performed by Pearl Jam, despite being listed as such. It's not as if the Web put such artifacts out of existence entirely (its still not too difficult to find $30 Radiohead "rarities" albums that feature songs like a clearly Bono sung "Sunday Bloody Sunday" labeled as a RH cover), but most 14-year olds these days are too computer savvy to purchase them.

Granted, the singles market was still in full swing in the early 90's, so while I could've had a bunch of the earlier Pearl Jam B-sides simply by purchasing the CD singles from the Ten and Vs. records, that would've been pricey and not nearly as illicit and cool as buying an import. But with the release of Lost Dogs, Pearl Jam is beating the World Wide Web/imports market at its own game by giving the listener 30 songs compiled from B-sides, holiday fan club singles and compilation one-offs. And at a reasonable price too! The one I purchased from a chain retailer on Manhattan's Upper East Side was a measly 13 bucks. And while the band hasn't emptied the vaults completely (no Singles soundtrack, no Vitalogy-era and frustratingly, no "Leatherman"), the quality of the songs on Lost Dogs is considerable, catapulting it into the rare league of Pisces Iscariot-like B-sides compilations that have the dubious distinction of being more enjoyable to listen to than some of the parent band's official releases.

I won't deny that I'm a huge Pearl Jam fan, and even share in the minority view that the band has never made a truly bad record. That being said, it's not like Binaural and Riot Act can hold a candle to Ten or Vitalogy, but Lost Dogs proves there were songs left off of the former albums that could have (should have?) significantly increased their quality. While Lost Dogs contains most of the expected Ten-era gems such as "Wash", "Alone", and a bare bones version of traditional concert closer "Yellow Ledbetter", it's recent B-sides such as "U", "Other Side" and "Undone" that surprise the listener with their quality (and any of which would've been preferred to recent career embarrassments like "Evacuation" and "Bushleaguer"). Lost Dogs also has the positive effect of snatching some excellent one-off tracks ("Leavin' Here", "Gremmie out of Control") from their mother albums, which is fortunate because you ain't finding a copy of the "Home Alive" compilation any time soon.

In terms of sequencing, Lost Dogs eschews chronological order in favor of establishing mood and flow, which in addition to working to its benefit, allows the listener to play the fun game of "let's guess what album this is from!" based off of the production. Furthermore, disc one tends to be dominated by rockers, while the second disc is largely comprised of ballads. The sequencing on disc two is particularly fantastic, the first 7 or so songs being among the most listenable of Pearl Jam's career, and leaving the listener to wonder how in the hell gorgeous ballads like "Fatal", "Other Side" and fan favorite "Hard to Imagine" were left off of the albums they were intended for (thorough liner notes actually go a long way towards clearing this up, but still). Of course, no B-side collection worth its salt would be without a few good-natured goofs not exactly written for mass consumption, and Lost Dogs has a handful of these, in particular Jeff Ament's rapped tribute to 70's baller Lew Alcindor, a radio show tribute to the Bee Girl from the Blind Melon video, and a song where Stone Gossard "sings." Unlike say, R.E.M.'s notorious (if fun) Dead Letter Office however, the goofs aren't annoying because they're significantly outnumbered by actual songs.

I don't see how anyone who thinks that they might be interested in purchasing Lost Dogs could be disappointed. You get 30 Pearl Jam songs, the majority of which are excellent, at the price of a single CD. Pearl Jam has always had a deserved reputation for being fan friendly, and Lost Dogs will do nothing to diminish that. And if you can find a cheap copy of the Given to Fly single in a used bin, "Leatherman" is well worth a few bucks.