This ‘album a day’ challenge really wasn’t conceived with this one in mind; I’d struggle to find many albums which I’m more familiar with than any of Pearl Jam’s, expecially Ten. Another one found in mum’s CD collection, though it took me a few years to develop a big enough sense of overly-serious introspection (i.e. being a teenager) to catch on. I did though, and now few bands create a mood that seems so tailored – in tone, character, and stylistic approach – to my temperament.
Ten isn’t Pearl Jam’s best album (they peaked with Vitology) but I can see why this one appears as their only entry on the list; as a debut it’s almost perfect. There might be familiarity with traditional song structure and melody inspired from classic rock, but this is also a product of that early-90s Seattle scene and so comes with the (pseudo)originality of the exploding grunge movement. Nevermind was released later on the same year, and while might be a more adventurous sound than what PJ were doing, I’ll happily take the superior musicianship – and relative safety that entails – over Nirvana. That’s why I come back to the likes of Ten and Vitology as opposed to Nevermind (of which can’t remember the last time I played); Pearl Jam have an unhurried, cultivated lasting appeal – expertly brooding in 90s sensibilities – rather than a snapshot of ingenuity (and angst) for which I have to strain to remember what the original appeal was.
The hits from the album: “Alive”, “Even Flow”, and possibly Pearl Jam’s most famous track “Jeremy” all demonstrate Pearl Jam’s best qualities; Mike McCready’s restrained yet melodic lead guitar, chugging hard-rock riffs, and Eddie Vedder’s characteristic vocal style – so emotionally committed on every track. But the triumph here really is “Black” which, not only is the greatest song on the album, it’s possibly one of the greatest in PJ’s entire catalogue. It’s emotionally intense, almost agonising, but also musically brilliant. There’s a gradient of passion and grief that seems to go from a sulk to all out harrowing raw emotion toward the end of the song where a subtle piano riff gets picked up by McCready’s lead and eventually imitated vocally, escalating to some sort of bawling, epic, angsty crescendo.
It’s almost pathetic how much I’ve let the sentiments of this genre (including the image) influence my character, and no band has had a bigger impact there than Pearl Jam. Maybe one day I’ll grow out of it and I’ll no longer have to put up with the sneers of being a flannel-shirt-wearing tosser, but maybe I won’t and one day it might be cool again. I’m settled with neither of those happening though – long live the 90s!