FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Pearl Jam - Ten



Vinyl Corner


PHOTO CREDIT: Lance Mercer 

Pearl Jam - Ten


THIS is a segment where I select an album…


IN THIS PHOTO: Pearl Jam (1991)/PHOTO CREDIT: Lance Mercer/The Hell Gate

I think sounds best when played on a turntable. There are a few records that achieve their maximum potential when you drop the needle and let the vinyl goodness wash over you. In a previous instalment; I looked at Joni Mitchell’s Blue – one of those albums that is sublime when played on a C.D.: it achieves new realms of delight when spun on a record player! You only need look at the sales figures and facts around Pearl Jam’s Ten to know why the album continues to inspire so long after release. It is the debut album of the Alternative-Rock legends – many feel they have not equalled the brilliance and impact of that initial recording! A lot of the songs began as instrumental jams between the members of the newly-formed band. Eddie Vedder – their acclaimed singer – would then put his lyrics on the top. Songs looked at the nature of depression and abuse; homelessness and death – in 1991, when Grunge was in full-swing; these kind of songs were quite common and popular. Nirvana released their debut, Nevermind, in the same year: the latter became a megahit success for the Seattle band; Pearl Jam’s Ten was more of an 'outsider'. It is not quite Grunge: the sound (they make) harkens back to the Classic-Rock and Alternative bands of the 1970s, to an extent...


IN THIS PHOTO: Pearl Jam (1991)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It is grizzled and grimey but cleaner and more stadium-aiming than the likes of Nirvana. At a time when U.S. bands were ruling the planet; many could forgive critics for overlooking Pearl Jam – so hectic and busy was the scene back then. There were many, at the time of the album’s release, who accused Pearl Jam of trying to jump on the Grunge bandwagon, Jeremy, one of their big singles, is a definite attempt to replicate the same sort of sounds as Nirvana, Soundgarden and their contemporaries. Any accusations that song was trying to mimic should remember this: it was recorded and released before Nirvana’s Nevermind. Pearl Jam were responding to something in the air: a feeling and sound that was much-needed in the music world. They helped popularise Alternative-Rock and bring it more into the mainstream. Released on 27th August, 1991; Ten has shifted well over ten-million copies. It is the most commercially successful album of the band’s career and, in 2018, is still being incorporated into music. I hear a lot of bands with a Ten mindset: those big, dramatic songs all scored by a gravelled and impassioned voice. Vedder, to me, represented an alternative to the likes of (Nirvana’s) Kurt Cobain. It was less intense a performance, perhaps – in terms of volume and shouting – but a more rounded voice.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Those deep tones could elevate into a falsetto: it could do soft and contemplative; rising to the heavens and taking the listener somewhere extraordinary. The band’s tight and exceptional performances meant the album became a huge hit in the 1990s. San Diego musician Vedder, before the album was recorded, heard demos his bandmates had recorded. Guitarist Steve Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament, alongside Mike McCready and Matt Cameron (the drummer with Soundgarden) began to put the songs together and, with Vedder, mould Ten. Several of the album’s songs began as instrumentals: Vedder added lyrics later (after he joined the band) and, with regards their content; the singer claimed it was about living in the moment. Depression and murder are addressed – but the album is never overtly-dark and repressive. It is about the realities of life and the openness of the human soul. He did not want to hide his feelings and, instead, allow the listener into his mind.  It is a record that takes risks and is dating – Why Go talks about psychiatric hospitals – and compelled a generation. Tracks such as Alive became anthems for youths at the time – in no small part because of its inspiration and uplifting sound. Alive – about a boy who discovers the man he thought was his father is actually his step-father (his real dad died years before) – was taken from Vedder’s own experience. When he was seventeen; Vedder found out his father was actually his step-father – and his real dad has died a long time ago.

I have thrown a spotlight on Ten before but, as I seek for something equivalent in the modern scene; my mind goes back to the 1991 album and how important it is. We have not really seen a band like Pearl Jam for some years. I know there is a demand and room for a group who can produce the same sweeping songs that deal with weighty subjects. We have some great bands coming through: none have the same clout, roar and drama as the U.S. band. There was something about the album’s timing that stirred up excitement. The stadium sounds of the 1970s – and all their heavy-riffed songs – mixed with 1980s Post-Punk and some of the of-the-moment Grunge movements. It was a cross-decades release that, unsurprisingly, appealed to a broad demographic. Bands who thought like Pearl Jam were given the impetus to rise and play – new idols were showing them the way and opening up their mind. The album was a huge hit that saw the band much-demanded and busy. They opened for Red Hot Chili Peppers (during their Blood Sugar Sex Magik tour) and were splitting their time between Europe and North America. 1991 was a fantastic year for music and one where new artists, if they produced an album strong enough, got the chance to play some incredible gigs; support some big names and get their music played across the world.

It was a vibrant and stunning time for music. Maybe there is little of the wit that made Nirvana stand out from the crowd: Pearl Jam are a more serious and overwrought band. The music and lyrics connected with people; the fantastic band interplay meant they were playing around the world; the music has endured and survived this long – and continues to influence bands. The eleven-track album (the original release) had some Grunge shades but stood apart from the zeitgeist at the time. If Pearl Jam had tried to compete with Nirvana; they might not have enjoyed the same success and made the same impression. As it was; the band took their own path and created a wonderful record. It is seen as one of the finest debut albums of all-time: other definitely put it among their choice albums ever. It is cited by critics as a ground-breaking and extraordinary work of brilliance. This is all true - but what resonates inside me is how the songs come alive on vinyl. Ten sounds fantastic however you play it: on vinyl, it assumes a new life and promise. It is intense listen but one that changes the listener. You cannot casually hear the album and let it swim into the background: it demands full involvement and concentration from its subjects! I would urge people to get the album (on vinyl) and let it do its thing. Twenty-seven years after its release; Pearl Jam’s keeps offering up revelations, insights and joy-bombs. It unfurls and teases; it brings you in and lets the music wash over the skin. It is a masterful work from a band who, in the space of a single record, helped bring Alternative-Rock…


IN THIS PHOTO: Pearl Jam (1991)PHOTO CREDIT: Lance Mercer

INTO the mainstream.