This took a little longer to crank out than I anticipated. But, I’m finally back with my second RetroSensei’s Record Shop post. This time, I’m going to write a bit about another album that heavily influenced me in my early years of songwriting: Pearl Jam’s debut album – Ten.
As I mentioned in the last Record Shop post, Nirvana’s Nevermind was a major influence on me. That record helped inspire me to pick up a guitar and learn to play. However, it was Pearl Jam’s debut album that actually taught me my first lessons in the art of songwriting. These two records, while both released around the same time, were worlds apart in terms of style and composition. Nirvana’s Nevermind was raw and full of in-your-face energy, Pearl Jam’s Ten was very polished and controlled. Sure, a number of the songs on this record pack a punch. There are some real mosh-worthy tunes on Ten. But the whole album has production value that’s altogether different. It’s much more… professional.
The music throughout the entire album is very well written and polished to a shine. The mix is perfect. When combined with Eddie Vedder’s unique vocal style, the whole package is just divine.
Like many, the album first came to my attention when the single “Even Flow” hit the air waves. This was followed by the smash hit “Jeremy”. A video that played on Mtv with heavy rotation. When I purchased my first cassette copy of the album, I was pleased that nearly every song on the record held the same magic as the single releases. In fact, people who enjoy exploring B-sides and other deep cuts will pleased to learn that almost every outtake and B-side from the record are just as good, if not better than some of the album tracks – but that’s another post for different time. For now, let’s take a look at the album track-by-track.
- Once – The album starts with fade in. A mellow, ambient trance-like rhythm that drones on for about 40 seconds before launching into a frenzied, rocking guitar riff. The intro is quickly replaced by the growling voice of Eddie Vedder. Themes of self-control, and a descent into madness are the focus of the tune. A fantastic start to record.
- Even Flow – The second track is just a strong as the first. Even Flow was the second single from the record and today remains in regular rotation on rock radio.
- Alive – This track is actually the very first single from the album and again, is another of Pearl Jam’s most recognized songs. The subject matter of this tune is a fascinating bit of rock and roll mythology.
- Why Go – This track is a favorite of mine. It’s another hard rock tune. Palm-muting, whammy bars – all classic hair metal staples – taken and completely transformed into a new type of rock music for the 90’s. Eddie’s classic angst-driven lyrics reign supreme on this track.
- Black – Finally, the first come-down on the record. This track became the band’s first unofficial single. It never received it’s own release but became a radio favorite nonetheless. It’s a power ballad and a long-time fan favorite.
- Jeremy – Here we have the third single from the album. Jeremy is a song that was played to death both on TV and radio, but it deserved it. It’s a fantastic song. The storytelling in the lyrics were fueled even more by a stellar music video that still haunts the minds of many to this day.
- Oceans – This is one of stranger songs on Ten. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the record. It’s a solid track, but despite actually being an international single, it pales in comparison to some of the other stronger songs on the album. That’s not to discount it… This track has a very mysterious and memorable quality to it.
- Porch – From the “strange and mellow” we go back to the “machine-driven” rock formula. This song, while solid is probably the one most people consider to be the first throwaway track on the album. That being said, its still a great song, so in many ways it’s a testament to how great this album really is.
- Garden – Here we have the second track on the album that many consider to be largely forgettable. However, to me, Garden is a personal favorite. Everything from the lyrics to the ambient instrumental – it all weaves into a perfectly magical track.
- Deep – In my opinion, this is probably the weakest track on the record. It’s not bad, but it’s not particularly good either. Definitely a filler track.
- Release – The album ends on a mellow note. This track is soft and heartfelt. It’s really an amazing contrast to the rest of the record and it’s also a personal favorite of mine. The end of the track fades into several moments of silence followed by the tribal drone that opened the initial song. Putting a perfect capstone on the album as a whole.
Pearl Jam is one of those bands that really defined 90’s Alternative. And Ten is a classic example of why.
When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system, or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. When listening to classic records like this, I prefer the original release to many of the “remastered” editions. Often times, remasters are overly loud and actually contain a lower level of quality than the original album. There are exceptions to this, in fact, there’s even a special “redux” version of Ten that is completely remixed and remastered and it’s worth a listen. But, to me the original release is the definitive version of the album.
When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Unlike pop albums, many good rock records are sequenced in a certain order. Some songs tend to be more enjoyable when following the song preceding them. Put the record on while you’re driving, or doing house work. Let it play in the background. Listen it to a few times. Some records need to grow on you. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.