The song “Black” by Pearl Jam is beautiful. It’s well-written and emotive. It’s relatable to anyone who’s lost at love a time or two. It starts off so simply and builds to almost operatic heights of intensity and heartbreak.
As good as the studio version is, the MTV Unplugged performance of the song is incredible. Again, it starts simply, and you melt into it. Soon (and subtly), Eddie and the band turn it up – and I’m just mesmerized. Eddie Vedder has a kind of Jim Morrison or Joe Cocker-like intensity when he really gets rolling. It’s like seeing a musical possession: it’s thrilling and frightening, wild yet controlled, otherworldly yet totally grounded. Eddie’s sitting down the entire time but you’re almost holding your breath expecting him to jump up and get the holy ghost. It’s like he’s a whirling dervish who’s been nailed to the stool.
And so what if you might not be able to distinctly make out every single word when Vedder sings it? He puts himself completely into the song – heart, soul, blood, sweat, spit, spleen … 127%. (That might just be a rough estimate).
The cover by Smith & Meyers of the group Shinedown is fine. It’s fairly respectable; it’s enunciated quite well. It’s … okay. It just doesn’t have the same intense and passionate wallop of the Pearl Jam version.
And I’m not really feeling the live cover by Aaron Lewis of Staind, either. It seems very draggy and sad, much more than it needs to be. It’s kind of blah. Maybe anything less than Vedder on this song just sounds whiny and emo to me.
Baseball player Bronson Arroyo tackled the song on his debut album of cover songs, Covering the Bases (get it? a ballplayer doing cover songs? huh, huh?). Honestly, it’s not as bad as I thought it might be. Still not Vedder but I think it might kill on karaoke night at some bar.