Review Summary: Control Myself, CHAPTER 1: “What the Fuck is This World Running to…?”
Were it not for the rise of heroin that occurred in the late ‘80s among the lower and middle classes, it is likely that Pearl Jam never would have been born, and what would’ve been globally renowned would be the neo-glam act Mother Love Bone. Fronted by the charismatic Andrew Wood, along with Soundgarden Seattle had preeminent acts that were set to blow up the world, raising hype in the pages of Kerrang!
and Metal Hammer
alike. Branching off from what heavy metal had cornered itself to become, these were bands ready to show off sexuality in a way that was more than just hedonistic; undeniably, it was primal. However, fate had a different idea.
19th March, 1990. That was the day Andy Wood passed onto the next life. After only days of struggling with a major overdose, Wood had made the worse mistake any heroin junkie can- forgetting quantities of the drug are relative. Injecting himself with an already lethal dose he thought he could handle, Wood was robbed of all dignity and payed the price for his sin, facing either death or life confined to extreme disability and constant care. Chris Cornell himself reasons, “The death of the innocence of the scene wasn’t later when Cobain blew his head off. It was ***ing then, with Andy lying in that hospital bed”. As Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard knew, Mother Love Bone could not be continued without Wood’s necessary presence. With the band disbanded, Gossard and Ament were facing defeat in the eyes of success that they’d already experienced twice now in their career- motivation conflict in mid-‘80s punk-metal hybrid Green River left a band hyped for success floundering in minor cult interest.
For the most part, Gossard and Ament had retreated without wanting to continue music- certain personal situations left them to bum around Seattle for a while until they could work themselves up to play music again (something the two were both hesitant about even collaborating on). With the recruitment of Mike McCready, a guitarist who had faced similar failure while trying to launch his hair-metal outfit Shadow, the unnamed band quickly set to work on creating a demo tape of instrumentals with Matt Cameron to recruit a new singer. Not intent to get an Andy Wood or Mark Arm clone however, the band was looking for somebody new and different- an identity who could match Wood without copying him.
Gossard received the demo tape back with ‘Momma-Son’ inscribed where ‘Gossard Demo’ once was. Contained within were the early workings for “Once”, “Alive” and “Footsteps”, complete with a man who’s deep corrosive croon drew out an emotional response that not only matched but bettered that of Wood’s commanding personality. Enter Eddie Vedder.
Then titled Mookie Blaylock, the band got to work immediately and spontaneously on their debut masterpiece that would herald a new sound almost unheard of before (for the uninformed, ‘grunge’). As the drum shuffle and cold atmosphere launches forth on “Once”, Pearl Jam take hold in a way few bands ever can. Ferocity matched with pain, “Once” is a dark Springsteen-Nebraska
way to open an album, the second part of the Momma-Son trilogy detailing the results of the young boys Oedipal abuse- now a serial killer intent on stalking and slaughtering lone prostitutes. The eastern riff that accompanies it is equally daunting, moving from minimal verses to the explosive and cathartic chorus. Showing off the riffs of Gossard and impressive leads on the part of McCready, Pearl Jam establish a fine tradition to open albums with no compromise, and “Once” is still the archetypal best.
While critics scrambled for ways to criticize Pearl Jam’s sound in light of their second live appearance, it’s difficult to understand in retrospect how the apparent influences of Bad Company and The Eagles were there (hint; they weren’t). Surely if they were referencing that, they were probably attempting to respond to the albums singles- most notably the funky and aggressive swagger of “Even Flow”. With its snake-hipped groove and incomprehensible lyricism, it earned the band a badge of discontent in the ‘90s if only for popularizing the oft imitated but poorly performed baritone drawl of Vedder. Needless to say, the likes of “Even Flow”, “Jeremy” and “Alive” have not aged quite as poorly as critics would have had you thought; now standing as early testaments to the bands well-formed and anthemic nature.
Disproving asinine erstwhile assessments aside, while Ten
is arguably defined by its singles it’s its deep cuts that impress the most. With songs like “Porch”, Pearl Jam provide an unparalleled sense of mosh-ready fun amongst the Seattle scenes piss drab setting- live, the guitar duelling middle section provided an excellent canvas for Eddie Vedder to let loose against, most notably his pit diving antic off of a camera rig at the Pinkpop Festival (A more subdued ‘Pro-Choice’ incident can be found on the bands MTV Unplugged performance). On the more emotional side of things, the ever-present emotional melancholy of “Black” remains a fine piece of grunge nostalgia, thankfully never being tainted by MTV due to it never being released as a single. Its cruising soft touch and rising melodic power throughout lift it well above the likes of “Alive”, not least because of its sleeper status. The brilliant words Vedder penned are deeply touching, with the likes of, “Tattooed all I see/all that I am/all that I’ll be…” and, “I know you’ll be a star/in somebody else’s sky/but why?/but why?- can’t it be mine?” inspired deep emotional resonance amongst the bands fanbase. As the basis for many falling in love with Pearl Jam, it’s difficult to write Ten
off as anything but a classic.
Everything about Ten
sings perfection, and that’s even down to its least impressive moment, “Deep”. Reaching its cataclysmic final note on the epic “Release”, the “Master/Slave” instrumental that loops the record leaves time for recollection amongst the albums maelstrom of heavy rockers and carefully constructed ballads. Was it the emotional force of “Oceans” or “Garden” that brought you here? Or was it the propulsive tales of injustice that permeated “Jeremy” and “Why Go”? Or was it simply a desire for heavy hitting anthems such as “Alive” and “Even Flow”? Regardless, by reaching so many base’s and perfecting all of them, Pearl Jam have constructed an album that lives past childish name calling and satirical mockery. The unfortunate consequence of Ten however was that the band forever had to live up/down the legacy in an attempt to establish an identity beyond that of their debut. While the likes of Vs.
put up a valiant attempt, Pearl Jam’s career was forever littered with ongoing identity crisis’ and the question forever remaining, “But is it as good as Ten
NEXT: “I Swear I Never Took Her for Granted…”