I would like to think that I’m a reasonably mature person. That’s how I’ve always wanted to be viewed, in any context of my life. I’ve always conducted myself rather handily in the world of academia, simply with the hopes of being considered to be beyond my friends and peers in something of a model fashion. This is especially curious, as I am not a competitive person by nature. However, if there is always one thing I’ve always wanted to be knowledgeable about, and further advance my understand of, it is music. I was raised by a music aficionado, so I can’t really say that I didn’t at least inherit a tendency to what to be a “know it all" about the subject. I was brought up on a heavy diet of nearly everything. I soon had a decent grasp on every spectrum of music’s increasingly wide palette. From the most basic melodies, to the deepest, most textured compositions in history, I soon became fascinated with just the concept of getting inside a musical piece. Interestingly enough, my subconscious was silenced during my early adolescence, if for nothing else than the influence of friend’s opinions. I became increasingly less open to different subjects. I simply began to see many things in terms of black or white. I did manage to stay true to my roots, while retaining a little bit of what made me “me." Needless to say, I was being pressured from three sides: my subliminal thoughts, my desires, and people who were closest to me. In recent years, however, I’ve managed to break away from that type of ilk. I’ve rediscovered everything about music that excited and captivated me. I’ve experienced a lot of music in my day, and still like to think that I’m fairly knowledgeable about all of it. All of this stems from my aspirations of a higher sense of maturity and moral discipline. Still, as much as I’ve tried to fight it, even after hearing some of the most texture-laden and enthralling music in the world, I owe my musical maturity to one album. I actually think it’s funny sometime, to think of the albums that changed my life the most. There are four of them, but only one is the focus of this review. Ten
, the debut album of grunge legends Pearl Jam. I have no more profound love for any other album than I do for this one. As hard as it is for me to write that, I know it’s the truth.
Now, you’ve already read my ramblings, so I think we should move on. I’ve approached the review of this album rather cautiously. To be honest, I think it’s been covered rather handily already. Still, as I gave some thought as to what my 50th review should be, only two albums sprang to mind: De-loused In the Comatorium
by The Mars Volta
. As influential as De-loused
has been on my musical views, it will never match the significance that Ten
has in my eyes. Why would I hold such an album in this high of a regard? Why would someone who claims to wish for nothing else then to explore every facet of music, think that this album is so special? Before I answer my own question (and the one that I would assume that you, dear reader, have formed in your mind) I will mention the fact that I know it sounds ridiculously contradictory. I can’t find myself caring anymore. Ten
is as near perfect as an album can get, at least in my ever-humble opinion. Never again has Pearl Jam (or any other band for that matter) produced an album with as much appeal and charisma as Ten
. I very rarely find absolutely nothing to be wrong with an album. And yet, try as I might, I can’t seem to call to mind a single detraction from Ten
’s sheer brilliance. The album is as near-perfect as you can come to having the right balance of emotion, ambition, intelligence, and raw power. It is simple, and it is in no way inane. Ten
is something of a metamorphosis: the juxtaposition of when rock music became something more. It may be just a grunge album to some, but it is far more than that.
Exactly why does this album deserve such accolades? Could it be the lyrics? Yes, that would be one of the many reasons why Ten
is what it is. At the time of their debut, Pearl Jam weren’t the democratic bards that they are today, each throwing in suggestions about song content. No, that change didn’t come until around the writing process for the band’s fifth studio album, Yield
. During this time, the creative reins were held solely by Eddie Vedder, singer and multi-instrumentalist. The interesting thing to note is that Ten
is very similar to Yield
for a variety of reasons. Though they are widely separated in Pearl Jam’s release catalogue, they share several monumental commonalities. The most important of these would be the fact that those two albums feature the greatest songwriting that Pearl Jam has ever done. Period. While they are two completely different album’s, with very little in common from a musical stand-point, they are still the greatest artistic triumphs that the band has achieved. Now, take note of the fact that while the two albums are remarkably similar in that respect, Ten
still lapses Yield
several times over. One of the main reasons for this is the influence of Vedder, who simply did the most amazing writing of his life for his band’s debut. Ten
is like a river: calm, and smooth at times, and then you hit rapids or a waterfall, but eventually, everything becomes serene once again. Lyrically, it is one of the most well-constructed and emotive albums on the planet. This is wildly evident in the two parts of the Mamasan trilogy that are featured on Ten
: “Once" and “Alive." The Mamasan trilogy is a creative brainchild of Vedder’s; three songs (the third being “Footsteps," a Ten
b-side, was released in 2003 on the Lost Dogs
compilation). The Mamasan trilogy tells a story of incest between a mother and son beginning in “Alive." The lyrics clearly hint at such an idea, as they read:
Oh, she walks slowly, across a young man’s room/She said I’m ready...for you/I can’t remember anything to this very day/except the look, the look…/Oh, you know where, now I cant see, I just stare…
Vedder has stated that the “she" and the “young man" in “Alive" are, in fact, a mother and son. The son is seduced to sexual promiscuity with his mother, on the belief that he owes it to her, in the absence of his dead “father." The sage haunts the boy until adulthood, when he becomes a serial killer, as described in “Once." The lyrics for “Once" say:
I admit it...what's to say...yeah…/I'll relive it...without pain...mmm…/Backstreet lover on the side of the road/I got a bomb in my temple that is gonna explode/I got a sixteen gauge buried under my clothes, I play…/Once upon a time I could control myself/Ooh, once upon a time I could lose myself, yeah…/Oh, try and mimic what's insane...ooh, yeah…
The son feels that he can no longer contain himself, and engages in murder while contemplating suicide. He also begins to lust for his mother, and slakes such thoughts by way of prostitutes and rape. The third part of the Mamasan trilogy, “Footsteps," chronicles the death sentence that the son receives upon capture, and his hatred towards his mother.
As incredible as the lyrics are, they are rivaled in majesty only by the instrumentation on Ten
. Grunge music was always hailed as being extremely simple in musical terms, especially since it’s heyday followed directly after the 80s, whose emphasis was technicality. I am of the opinion that Pearl Jam are the exception to this concept. I don’t believe their music to lack for anything in scope or depth. I find it to be as thought-provoking and immersive as any other composition. Songs like “Black" help me back up such claims to a certain extent. “Black" is not only a sensation lyrically, but musically as well. It’s colloquially what you might call a “win/win" situation. “Black" is not only the greatest song on Ten
, it is also the greatest song that Pearl Jam has written as of yet. I honestly can’t express in words how exceptional this song is. “Black" is the type of thing that needs to be experience, not heard. Pearl Jam also have a unique knack for being connected to the world around them, particularly in a naturalistic sense. “Oceans" is a fine example of this fact. It is also another song that reaffirms my claims about the quality of Pearl Jam’s musicianship. “Oceans" is the least-advanced song from an instrumental stand-point on Ten
. However, this just makes it even easier to express the true feelings that can be derived from it. “Oceans" is the incarnation of every tranquil thought that the human mind can conjure up.
You don’t have to stray/The oceans away/Waves roll in my thoughts/Hold tight the ring…/The sea will rise…/Please stand by the shore…/Oh, oh, oh, I will be…/I will be there once more…
I can’t do justice to how Eddie Vedder sings this song. His mind’s contents seem to pour from his lips, and wash over the listener in an amicable, yet affirmative palpation. “Oceans" is yet another work that needs to be experienced.
“Garden" is similar to “Oceans" in the sense of connections to nature. It’s fairly evident to tell that from the title. And yet, “Garden" represents the perfect fusion of Pearl Jam’s beauty as musicians and lyricists. Guitarist Mike McCready’s subtle workings are fluid and dexterous. Vedder is, once again, as shining star of amazement. The lyrics to be found in “Garden" tell an ethereal tale of fixation, and hypnotism.
I will walk...with my hands bound/I will walk...with my face blood/I will walk...with my shadow flag/Into your garden, garden of stone...yeah…
Of course, for all it’s lyrical and musical prevalence, Ten
is, after all, a rock album. And for an iconic rock album, there is an iconic rock song. For Ten
that song is “Jeremy." Perhaps the most well-known song of Pearl Jam’s career, “Jeremy" is has been a radio hit for fifteen years now, and has catapulted it’s writers to success beyond their imaginations. It’s evident that “Jeremy" is special right from the introduction: a deep, rich guitar riff, complete with chime-like harmonics. It’s a sound that has become associated with its song, and the song with it band, and the band with it genre; furthermore, the band with legends.
Daddy didn’t give affection, no…/And the boy was something that mommy wouldn’t wear/King Jeremy the wicked...oh, ruled his world/Jeremy spoke in class today... /Woo... /Try to forget this...try to forget this…/Try to erase this...try to erase this…/from the blackboard…
“Jeremy" is Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam is “Jeremy." It really has become as simple as that.
The three straightforward rock songs are known as “Why Go," "Porch," and “Deep." These tracks are wildly exuberant. They focus less on meaning and metaphor, and more on just conveying the point. These are the songs upon which Pearl Jam cut loose, and they are among the most fun moments that Ten
has to offer. While they are relatively pointless frivolity, they do help set the album’s overall atmosphere. Ten
just wouldn’t be Ten
without them. There is a final culmination to Ten
. It takes the form of the song “Release." Much like any other timeless rock album, Ten
features a ballad, which, in this case is “Release." Clocking in at a tidy 9:06, the song is by far the easiest to lose yourself in. The fever-dream aspects of it don’t help either. “Release" is another example of Pearl Jam’s marvelous lyrical and music combinations. The words the come from Vedder speak verses to you as her sings:
Oh dear dad/Can you see me now/I am myself/Like you somehow/I'll wait up in the dark/For you to speak to me/I'll open up/Release me…
“Release" is a compendium of every other song on Ten
. It summarizes a fantastic album quite suitably, and is therefore, a fantastic song.
As I stated quite a bit ago, I have approached this review rather cautiously. While I believe that another one was neither warranted or needed, I still felt a sense of commitment to write this one. I consider Ten
to be a classic simply due to its influence on my life. However, that’s not the only reason. Ten
has become more than an album; it has defined a generation. Look beyond Peal Jam. Look beyond grunge. Look beyond rock music. Look beyond music in general. Hopefully you will see the point that I am grasping at. I urge everyone, regardless of taste, to listen to this album. I can only hope that you can draw the same meaning from it that this humble reviewer can. Trust me, it’s a very nice thing if you do.