Pearl Jam: The Last Great Big Rock Band – Ten – by Killian Laher
First time I heard the name Pearl Jam, the word jam made me turn off, envisaging some flabby, noodly grown up rock band. The second time we were on a long car journey and Jeremy came on the radio. The driving rhythm, melancholic chorus and Eddie Vedder’s deep commanding vocals had me hooked instantly. We were almost at our destination and I silently prayed we wouldn’t arrive before the song ended. Luckily, we didn’t, and the DJ informed me that it was Pearl Jam. My brother and I were on a family holiday and we made a pact to get our hands on their debut album, Ten, as soon as we could. I left it to him to pick it up as I was deep in the grip of a Lou Reed obsession at the time, but lucky for me he taped it for me.
The album opens with one of its weakest tracks, Once. Coming in gradually with 40 seconds – it sounded like a more ‘metallish’ Red Hot Chili Peppers – not really the way forward, you could almost hear the pony tails. After this, the album improves dramatically. The run of songs which follow Once are so ingrained in what you might call the ‘alt rock canon’ it’s hard to imagine their impact when you hear them first. Even Flow, while still containing that rogue Chili Pepper gene, bursts out of the speakers with hard-riffs, Vedder’s rich voice and a killer chorus. Alive follows, a hugely anthemic song which probably positioned Eddie Vedder’s vocal style as one of the most imitated for the next ten years or so, as did the dark, slow-burning Black, with a coda built on a vocal performance that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
Low key moments are few and far between here, Oceans is perhaps the most understated track, with the intensity swelling slowly to a rumbling midsection. Final track Release is probably the most aptly named track here, building slowly and gradually to a huge, punch-the-fucking-air-like-a-god chorus.
It’s an album very much of its time. Big, brawny rock with a 90’s twist, and not one I feel inclined to stick on too much these days, the subtler albums which followed it took far more time to reveal their charms. That’s as a result of listening to it almost daily for two years, a measure of how addictive it was.