Pearl Jam – Ten

Time to review an album nobody has ever spoken about – certainly not the eighty-nine million people who bought it since its release – Ten.

 

A better reviewer than I once mockingly described Pearl Jam as rock music’s last great hope, but he wasn’t far off from seriously stating the truth. Pearl Jam, in fact, is the last big Classic Rock band, capitals intended (at least for like two albums until they decided life was complicated). They really believe in the power of guitar solos to heal, in power chords for earnestness, in never selling out, in the immense power of “Rock” as a medium. Gaga bless them, but they’re wrong. You have to tell yourself that it’s only music. And don’t bring up U2 or whatever, because this wasn’t “rock” for 40-somethings. It was music for teens, but affected instead of disaffected ones.

 

But Joyce darn it, they try so damned hard that you’d have to be even deader on the inside than I am to not feel some sympathy for their efforts, some affinity for Eddie’s impossible baritone, and some spark of passion for the last great guitar solo ever at the end of “Alive.” God damn it, it’s all pretty cheesy, but there are some shining moments here, moments good enough to think for a second that this seriousfacedness was really onto something. But then you realize that those are just the singles, and there’s a reason everyone knows “Alive” and “Jeremy” but nobody cares about “Garden” and “Deep.”

 

Don’t bite my balls; I like Pearl Jam. But aside from one classic tale of bullying and another of fatherfakery the things here aren’t worth the overwrought treatment they get – and that’s when the songs themselves are worth remembering. There’s a lot of filler here – a good five of the eleven songs (that’s why it’s called “Ten”!) don’t make much of an impression at all, and that makes the awful break-up song “Black” and the meh general-angst “Release” fail as the emotional releases they’re clearly meant to be. And the ambiance…look kids, they’re a reason this album’s sound directly led to all that Nickelback/Creed/Hedley crap: because it sounds “impressive” and “heavy” while still plodding along at one beat per two seconds. Of course, this was the original, and Vedder’s voice really is both heavy and impressive, but try not to giggle at the “heeere come the power chords!” moments in songs like “Once” and “Garden.” Now it’s way better than that crap – because you get the feeling that these guys are playing for inexperienced good guys, not dipshits with spiky hair or nerdlingers, but the ‘GOD how do I deal with these FEELINGS’ is stronger than the intelligence. Pearl Jam would flip that later on in their career, but also stop writing hooks. Life is a rich tapestry like that.

 

But let me close with a happy thought by talking about the two songs here that are, in fact, the last great classic rock songs ever. Talking, off course, about “Alive” and “Jeremy.” Sorry, Pajamas, but your best early songs were singles. Know why? First, about eight hooks each. Third, they’re about things while making a general point. Fourth, the lyrics are actually subtle. “Jeremy” is about a bullied kid doing…something awful in response, but the protagonist is one of said bullies! And listen to Eddie snake his way around the line “seemed a harmless little fuck” like it wasn’t a thing (and it totally was a thing back in 1981 when the song was released), or eliciting sympathy and hinting at something awful with the line “King Jeremy the wicked ruled his world.” And “Alive”…Ma’am, could any band today pull off dueling guitar solos for two minutes? And if they could, would it be catchy enough to get on the radio? Seriously, each of these songs alone is worth more than several entire catalogues. Happy note! Oh wait, here’s a silly spacenoise/industrial sounds/moaning voices hidden track to ruin it.

5 / 10

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