And now a few words from (and about) the greatest American rock band ever

August 27, 1991.  The music world floundered in a hazy mist of hair-metal and synth-heavy “alternative” music.

And then came Ten


Pearl Jam‘s debut album (along with Nirvana‘s Nevermind, released four weeks later) would set the course for a new era of guitar-driven music that did not apologize for its varied sources of influence and inspiration.

As brilliantly chronicled in the documentary Hype!, the Seattle “grunge” scene quickly took on mythical (and laughable) “importance”, which (sadly) took the focus away from the incredible music that Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden, along with other under-the-radar bands (like The Melvins, Supersuckers, & Mudhoney) produced during that time.

But history has a way of clearing all of that up.  And let’s go back to Ten.  Here’s what All Music Guide has to say about that album:

Nirvana’s Nevermind may have been the album that broke grunge and alternative rock into the mainstream, but there’s no underestimating the role that Pearl Jam’s Ten played in keeping them there. Nirvana’s appeal may have been huge, but it wasn’t universal; rock radio still viewed them as too raw and punky, and some hard rock fans dismissed them as weird misfits. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Pearl Jam clicked with a mass audience — they weren’t as metallic as Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, and of Seattle’s Big Four, their sound owed the greatest debt to classic rock. With its intricately arranged guitar textures and expansive harmonic vocabulary, Ten especially recalled Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. But those touchstones might not have been immediately apparent, since — aside from Mike McCready’s Clapton/Hendrix-style leads — every trace of blues influence has been completely stripped from the band’s sound. Though they rock hard, Pearl Jam is too anti-star to swagger, too self-aware to puncture the album’s air of gravity. Pearl Jam tackles weighty topics — abortion, homelessness, childhood traumas, gun violence, rigorous introspection — with an earnest zeal unmatched since mid-’80s U2, whose anthemic sound they frequently strive for. Similarly, Eddie Vedder’s impressionistic lyrics often make their greatest impact through the passionate commitment of his delivery rather than concrete meaning. His voice had a highly distinctive timbre that perfectly fit the album’s warm, rich sound, and that’s part of the key — no matter how cathartic Ten’s tersely titled songs got, they were never abrasive enough to affect the album’s accessibility. Ten also benefited from a long gestation period, during which the band honed the material into this tightly focused form; the result is a flawlessly crafted hard rock masterpiece.

The core members of the band (Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, & Mike McCready) have carved out an amazing legacy beyond their original debut, with seven additional studio albums, countless tours and live albums, solo projects, and a resume that’s a lock for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame once they become eligible.

Currently recording their ninth full-length album, the band is taking some time to revisit the past with a deluxe reissue of Ten.  Available this week in four formats (including a Super Deluxe Edition that outdistances a collector’s wildest imagination), it provides a great opportunity to reflect on a band that does not need magazine covers or MTV exposure to validate its existence as one of the most essential (and eminently listenable) of our generation.

In honor of the four versions of the re-release, I’m offering up four links of equal relevance.  Sure, that’s a little gimmicky, but these links are worth your while, so I’m willing to do whatever it takes for you to click through.

The first of these provides a track-by-track review of the remixed versions of the songs on the Ten re-issue, along with the new (previously unreleased) material, as detailed by the Ottawa Sun.  Unsurprisingly, the package rates 5 stars out of 5.

Naturally, the band has been doing some press for the new edition, and the second link takes you to a Billboard Q&A with Pearl Jam bassist and co-founder Jeff Ament.  This is a well-done interview by the always insightful Jonathan Cohen.

The third link is an MSN Music interview with Ament, this time by the esteemed writer Alan Light.

And, finally the “reluctant rock star” Eddie Vedder agreed to an interview with Newsweek that helps humanize the oft-misunderstood Pearl Jam frontman.

Greatest American rock band ever?  Short answer – yes.  Relive Ten and catch yourself up on everything else you may have missed since then. 

And enjoy the ride as Pearl Jam continues its trek with a new album and tour later this year.

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~ by acm213 on March 28, 2009.

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