Ten became the biggest selling grunge album due to being accessible and containing eleven consistent tracks that defined a generation. In my opinion, the first half contains the best and most popular songs with 'Alive', 'Even Flow' and 'Jeremy' cited as key tracks to the album's success. Dig deeper and other examples of Pearl Jam's classic rock can be found - 'Porch' along with the stirring 'Deep' contributing to an album best consumed as a whole.
'Black' has become the slow burner of Ten, not a standout at first but over time has turned into the centrepiece and most enduring cut. The improvised lyrics of 'Release Me' contribute to what is one of the most moving alternative tracks in recent memory. The hard rockin' 'Why Go' storms off the blocks faster than any other song on the album, excellent for playing at maximum volume to annoy the neighbours. Pearl Jam, at the time of Ten, were always in the shadows of Nirvana's cultural dominance, which is unfair. Pearl Jam are more than just a Grunge band, more like a modern-day Led Zeppelin delivering classic rock songs.
As a collective, Vs stands out as Pearl Jam's most cohesive offering to date. It is also the closest studio recording to what the real live Pearl Jam experience - raw, intense, passionate, spontaneous. The suckerpunch opening of the short and snappy Go and the swaggering Animal are taken from the top draw of alternative rock- on this inspired form, no one could touch the band. Fans lapped up single Dissident as it sounds like a Ten outtake, the huge guitar riff and overstrained Eddie Vedder vocals setting the heart racing. The great strength of Vs is that no matter how fast or hard the song is pushed, the playing never loses precision. In some ways, the music feels too slick when the punk-rock chaos,
the kind that Nirvana was masters at, would be unleashed instead being held back. The understated Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town is a welcome break between the high drama that surrounds it, an indicator for the quieter, more restrained direction the band would take on future album tracks Nothingman, Wishlist and Sometimes. On release Vs became the fastest selling album ever (although pop muppets N'Synch now hold that record), giving an idea of the impact and popularity that Pearl Jam attained during 1993. It was not known at the time that this was the peak and from then on it was downhill.
It would be fair to say that as an album, Vitalogy is Pearl Jam's most inconsistent and baffling. But at the same time it would be fair to say it also contains many of the bands greatest and most cherished songs. Any album that contains Betterman, Last Exit, Corduroy and Immortality would in my book be hailed as a great album. But include the indulgent instrumental Pry To, the uneasy listening of Bugs and the overlong and tedious Stupid Mop and the album loses its impact.After a few plays, I felt the great urge to skip past the filler material once the novelty feeling was lost, why couldn't it had been edited better?
The over emphasis of this point would mean all but Pearl Jam fanatic will nowadays avoid Vitalogy like the plague which would be a shame as though Ten, Vs and Yield are better overall, Vitalogy delivers a telling snapshot of Pearl Jam at a critical and highly creative stage of their career. Considering to call it a day in the aftermath of Kurt Cobain's suicide, the Grungsters pulled through when others would become disillusioned and split up thus resulting in highly charged and emotional songs of Better Man's quality. In effect it matured the band both individually and musically with the songwriting becoming stronger and more focused, exploited on latter releases
After the tension of Vitalogy, came calm in the form of No Code. The anthem milestones of Alive and Daughter were replaced by more thought provoking and restrained likes of Present Tense and Who You Are. Slipping through the media net on release, No Code crept out to little fanfare after the hyped hysteria of Vs and Vitology. It was clear what the band wanted, to do things on their own terms, in their own way. The angst-fuelled fury of past is replaced by comfortable, measured classic rock. It was obvious that Neil Young heavily influenced recording especially on the mid-tempo Smile, which is not surprising since
the collaboration with Young on Mirrorball took place just one year earlier. The two most rocking tracks Hail Hail and Habit are absolute highlights in contrast to the weak single Who You Are and boring spoken word piece I'm Open (done to better effect on Yield's Push Me, Pull Me). The confidence shown in the band's playing is clearly shown on No Code, illustrated best on the excellent and timeless Red Mosquito. Even if Pearl Jam's commercial star was burning out, they were improving as a unit and in control of the potential madness huge success can bring.
Yield was Pearl Jam's most satisfying and rounded album since the glory days of Vs. When lo-fi opener 'Brain of J' storms the speakers with it's slashing guitars and garage vibe, it is a relief the band didn't forget how write the songs that made them hugely popular in the first place. The next two songs 'Faithfull' (sic) and 'No Way' recall Led Zeppelin at their peak, no mean feat considering the Zeppelin are the pinnacle of rock. The same could be said for the single 'Given To Fly' which funnily enough sounds too similar to Led Zeppelin's 'Going To California for it's own good. 'MFC' (Many Fast Cars) is familiar grunge of old while 'Pull Me Push Me'
incorporates strange noise samples as Eddie Vedder recites a monologue to surprisingly good effect. Other notable songs include 'In Hiding' a stadium rock anthem that is both touching and inspired, given a valuable insight of the pressures of fame and stalking has on Vedder. The MC5-styled 'Do The Evolution' is the loosest and most garage-rock song the band have recorded in years, the angelic choir adding a humorous touch to a band not known for humour. As with all PJ albums there are patchy moments spread through the disc - the overbearing Beatles influence on the closing 'All Those Yesterdays' ranks among the weakest tracks, but overall the highpoints overcome the low. Taken as a whole, Yield is far more consistent and accessible than 'Vitalogy' or
'No Code' as both contained too many weird filler tracks like 'Bugs' and 'I'm Open'. At least it meant PJ still had the fire in them to release a record that was as good as anything their peers were producing at the time. Not only that, Yield helped gain critical acclaim with the media, giving rise to Pearl Jam's credibility once more.
Before Pearl Jam blitzed the market with the Bootleg collection in 200/01, there was the small matter of Live On Two Legs, a mish-mash of various performances from the Yield tour put together to make it feel as a single concert. An accurate souvenir of the '98 tour, the disc includes a balanced selection taken from all Pearl Jam's albums up to Yield. There are glaring omissions which is thankfully saved by a faithful adaptation of Neil Young's F~~kin' Up. No essential by a long stretch but worth investigating all the same.
On Binaural PJ managed to deliver a solid, dependable if unspectacular collection of earthy rock songs. Sure, a good number of fans will be disappointed, wishing for Pearl Jam to be knocking out the angst cuts of old, but we all know that would be a pointless exercise. Binaural starts with three short rocking songs that come as quite a surprise, the band haven't rocked this hard in years. For this reviewer, God's Dice is the pick of the bunch. The mid-tempo Light Years and first single Nothing As It Seems lower the intensity somewhat harking back to the No Code era. However, whereas No Code was heavily influenced by Grunge
godfather Neil Young, Binaural pays an obvious homage to their idols The Who especially on album opener Breakerfall. Candidate for "mid-concert gas lighters in the air moment" is the brooding Thin Air, a simple drum beat and acoustic interludes amounting to one of Binaural's most memorable moments. Listening to the edgy Insignificance brings back the memories of when PJ had that initial hunger - the searing guitars, cohesive energetic choruses and willingness to just unleash, it doesn't happen that often. Which isn't to say its wrong, just not essential or groundbreaking to rock'n'roll.
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