Pearl Jam - Ten
Epic Records
Hard Rock, Grunge
11 songs (53:15)
Release year: 1991
Pearl Jam, Epic Records
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

One of the brightest lights from the (in)famous Seattle Grunge movement, Pearl Jam avoided Nirvana’s back-to-basics garage sound and instead worked on their love of Classic Rock (the band’s links with legends like Neil Young and The Who are well known) adding influences from Punk to create a sound that was completely theirs, different from the likes of Alice In Chains’ sludgy misery and Soundgarden’s Heavy Metal-fuelled thrashings. They're a real love/hate band - Eddie Vedder, possibly the most divisive vocalist in Rock history, is often named as the reason many can’t get into the band, which is a shame; this is not a band that you listen to and love from the get-go. You give it time, and concentrate on what you’re hearing, and the music duly opens to you.

Ten was the debut release from Pearl Jam, named for basketball star Mookie Blaylock’s jersey number, and that it would sell more than Nirvana’s breakthrough Nevermind album is significant. That Kurt Cobain and co. would go on to receive the legendary status they have in the mainstream rock world is a cheat, in many ways; if Cobain didn’t eat that shotgun and get an undeserved messianic status, and Pearl Jam didn’t devote much of their post-Ten time to sabotaging their own career, then they would be the Led Zeppelin of the nineties instead of the relatively ‘cult’ band that they’ve become.

I invoke the sacred name of Led Zep with a reason; the first thing you notice about Ten once you’re past Vedder’s deep and insistent voice are the guitars. Unmistakably 70s-influenced, the band took an original style by having the two guitarists playing in stereo, so that when you listen on headphones you hear one in each ear. This works wonderfully, especially during the many solos – it’s like being in the room with the band. Although in recent years Pearl Jam themselves have criticised Ten’s production, it sounds more than perfect to me, used as I am to crappy 80s and Black Metal mixes – all the instruments are more than audible and the guitars and bass have a wonderfully warm sound.

This is in complete contrast to the lyrical themes. From the Oedipus-alike Alive, dealing with a son discovering that the man he thought was his father was in fact his stepfather, and the mother’s subsequent grief-stricken seduction, to the depressing Black, a heartfelt and affecting lament to love lost, Ten is not a happy album, that’s for sure. Jeremy had its official video censored due to a disturbing depiction of a schoolchild’s suicide, and lyrically hinted at the violence which would later come in tragic events like the Columbine and Virginia Tech. massacres. Why Go deals with the struggle of a child wrongfully placed within a psychiatric institution by her own mother, Even Flow is about the hopeless life of a homeless man, dealing with his detached state of mind whilst living on the streets, and lyrically-linked finales Deep and Release are about a junkie’s last fix as he prepares for suicide.

On first listens, you just won’t get the lyrical messages. First single Alive is musically uplifting, the ‘I’m still alive’ chorus striking a chord with millions of people at the time and since, and tracks like the devilishly catchy Even Flow are hard to get out of your head. As mentioned, there are solos aplenty, and the song structures are little short of progressive – this is surprisingly complex music that reveals something new on each listen. The musicians are faultless; Mike McCready and Stone Gossard are talented guitarists, each noodling away individually yet sounding completely together, whilst bassist Jeff Ament and then-drummer Dave Krusen lay down a solid backing. It all adds up to a perfect formula; in many ways this is THE Rock album of the nineties, a recognised classic.

Not a song on Ten is filler; all are excellent, catchy yet carefully thought-out examples of Hard Rock that avoid commercial pitfalls and tell of a band stretching its wings, prepared for world domination. From the laid-back sombreness of Black to the pushy Porch, it’s hard to call any songs here aggressive yet each works its way in and never lets go, especially the rarely-mentioned ambient hidden track, Master/Slave, that begins and ends the album.

Of course, hearing these songs in their live incarnation is where they hit the hardest, especially moments like the audience sing-along on the acoustic version of Black from 2003’s Benaroya Hall performance. One of the great benefits of the band choosing to release so many live albums is that it’s easy to hear them at their best, and the energy and vigour that Pearl Jam put into their performances puts many others to shame. Words have been written elsewhere about the musical movement of the early nineties so there’s little point repeating it all here. Despite Ten’s massive sales (twelve times platinum, one of the biggest-selling Rock albums ever) many look down on the band as a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon, much like the rest of the Grunge scene; an aberration that kick-started the self-obsessed and whiny modern radio Rock abomination.

This, of course, makes about as much sense as blaming Black Sabbath for Limp Bizkit. Each musical generation has leaders and the followers, those that start something and those that administer the fatal blow, squeezing all the life from it and causing the originators to look bad by association. Pearl Jam are no exception; a very important band to the Rock world that still hasn’t received the rewards it deserves. Ten is their first classic.

Killing Songs :
Goat quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Pearl Jam that we have reviewed:
Pearl Jam - Backspacer reviewed by Goat and quoted 82 / 100
Pearl Jam - Live On Two Legs reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam reviewed by Adam and quoted 88 / 100
Pearl Jam - Yield reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Pearl Jam - Vitalogy reviewed by Adam and quoted 89 / 100
To see all 10 reviews click here
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