Review Summary: Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the album that made the 90s, TEN (Standing ovation, clapping ensues, people cry with joy).
Epic Records, 1991
Pearl Jam is...
Eddie Vedder: Vocals
Stone Gossard: Guitar
Mike McCready: Guitar
Jeff Ament: Bass
Dave Krusen: Drums
1991 has been hailed as a great year for modern music. Gone were the cheesy, overproduced stadium anthems and terrible clothes of the 80s, and gone was the unfortunate trend of terrible rap singles (Ice Ice Baby). Grunge music had just begun to take center stage in the musical industry, with grunge giants Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Stone Temple Pilots expanding the fledgling genre. This group of grunge giants would not have been completed if not for the rise of Pearl Jam.
Forming in 1990 after the demise of grunge forefathers Mother Love Bone and Temple Of The Dog, the members of Pearl Jam came together in a studio in their hometown of Seattle to record their first album, Ten. The album soon become a surefire success, despite various critics claiming that Pearl Jam were sell out copies of fellow bands Nirvana and Alice In Chains. A massive tour was announced in order to help boost the record's sales, which skyrocketed, allowing Ten to peak the charts and eventually become one of the best selling albums of all time.
But what of the music contained here? Does the quality of the album still hold up, almost eighteen years later? The answer is a definite yes. This album manages to capture grunge at it's peak, and combine it with powerful arena rock hooks and strong songwriting.
Eddie Vedder is a superb vocalist, and Ten captures him at his prime. His magnificent, deep voice soars above the musical soundscape and is filled with emotion and power. Growls and animalistic shrieks are not uncommon in his vocal style, but the simply add to the sheer animosity of the harder songs ('Once', 'Why Go', 'Even Flow'). His voice is also suitable on slower, ballad songs such as the gorgeous 'Black' or the eerie 'Oceans'. As the chief songwriter for the band, his lyrics are as great as his voice, dealing often with depression and drug abuse. 'Alive' tells the story of a young man who realizes that his father is not his real father and that his mother is attracted to him (just as strange as it sounds), while 'Once' continues this cycle, with the young man expressing his hatred to the world. Overall, Eddie is an excellent songwriter and vocalist who expresses angst and anger through his musical stylings. Pearl Jam would not be complete without his strong influence.
The guitar assault of Mike McCready and Stone Gossard is a force to be reckoned with. Ten is abundant with catchy, hard hitting riffs such as those on 'Once', 'Deep', and 'Even Flow'. A great amount of distortion is used, but not so much that the rest of the instruments are overpowered. McCready's solos are unique and emotional, especially the two minute masterpiece found on 'Alive'. Effects pedals and other items are used on many of the songs, especially the wah wah riff of 'Deep' and the opening of the epic 'Jeremy'. Although Stone mostly hangs back as rhythm guitarist, he occasionally adds his own soloing to the mix, such as the quick, distorted solo on 'Why Go'. The dual guitarists manage to give this album and arena rock feel, while also adding distortion and crunchy riffs in order to expand on the grunge aspect of their music.
Although the guitar and vocals tend to take the stage for much of the album, the rhythm section is not neglected. Dave Krusen is a decent, with the use of cymbals and snare drum disguising his less than technical approach. 'Even Flow' contains a very infectious drum groove that fits perfectly with the equally catchy guitar line. A more jazzy approach is taken towards slower songs such as 'Release' and 'Oceans' with the kits providing more of an atmosphere than a real rhythm. Jeff Ament is also quite talented, and, although his bass lines are often drowned out by the guitar, when they become more audible they prove to be catchy and well written. The first thirty seconds of 'Why Go' show Jeff and Dave collaborating very well, with very catchy, original results that would later be replicated on the later Pearl Jam tune, 'Go'.
In conclusion, Ten is an absolute classic album. The vocals, songwriting, and instrumentation all combine to create a spectacular musical experience, and one that has yet the be topped by the band. Musical variety is abundant here, with fast hard rock songs 'Once', 'Deep', 'Why Go', touching ballads 'Black', 'Oceans', 'Release', and slow epics, 'Alive', 'Jeremy'. Even if you are not a fan of grunge or hard rock, you should still listen to this album, as I guarantee it will make you fall in love with the genre, and this band.