A sharp, incendiary album in a decade considered to be the pinnacle of the Grunge era, Pearl Jam’s Ten (1991) is no less than a testament to classic American rock, mixed into a cocktail of heavy guitar and rough, smoky vocals. Grace Dalaigh-Taylor reflects on the eleven-track triumph that shined a spotlight on the problems plaguing the youth of the nineties.
Growing up, I was deeply immersed in the music of my parents. My ears regularly had to contend with the likes of The Cult one minute, and Norah Jones the next. Truthfully, the fluctuation of genre ensured the fact that today, I really could not tell you what I enjoy listening to the most. Despite living in a perpetual flux of sound as a child, consistency lay in a steady diet of American grunge and punk rock; I have my father to thank for my continued love of heavy guitar and raspy vocals today. I remember first listening to the song Jeremy, around the age of eleven. At the time being the littlest of an outcast, I found solace in the tale of the main protagonist, the songs namesake and the fact he was somewhat quiet and seemingly out of place. A poetically lyrical composition matched with the rage of Ament’s smooth and enticing bass was quite literally music to my ears, as I would often spend my lunchtimes playing on my iPod in one of the music rooms at school.
Eddie Vedder is an impeccable vocalist; with songs from the album, such as Alive, breaking loose passionate remedies on depression and loneliness. All common themes of grunge music at the time, of course, but there was something special about Pearl Jam. Even as an emerging adolescent I could understand this – but now I am older, I think it is the fact Pearl Jam so eloquently laced together struggles both mentally and physically, with a fight for something better, that it lends such a deep impact. I am not writing this to deter you from the ultra-melancholy vibe of Nirvana for example, but Pearl Jam seemed to instill a more positive message to their songs; Ten truly encapsulated the hard fight for something better.
‘To say that the music that Pearl Jam created is anything less than anthemic would be a disservice to the band.’
Pearl Jam formed from the cusp of a break-away from the band, Mother Love Bone by bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard in 1990. Alongside Eddie Vedder (vocals), Mike McCready (guitars) and Dave Krusen (drums), Ten was the band’s debut studio release in 1991. Recorded with Epic Records, the band was situated in Seattle, a city widely regarded as the capital of American rock for birthing bands such as Nirvana, Bikini Kill and Soundgarden. To say that the music that Pearl Jam created is anything less than anthemic would be a disservice to the band.
Songs such as Black are sure to have its listeners losing control of their heads and singing along with a furious might. Its desperate and enforcing tone is achingly cathartic, and you feel every ounce of pain conveyed in the song. Black itself holds the capacity to stir something deep inside, and if you are new to Pearl Jam, let me suggest that you give this one a listen if nothing else – preceding a hypnotic repetition of “doodoo-doo-doo” accompanied by a guitar solo, the eloquently melancholy lyrics of “I know someday you'll have a beautiful life / I know you'll be a star in somebody else’s sky” dance on your heartstrings in a way that most people will be able to relate to in some way.
There is something so attractive about music you can really find yourself and your own experiences in, and for me, Pearl Jam has never failed me in this regard. Youth is turbulent for near everyone and during that, music is a lifeline – Pearl Jam have gotten me out of bed after an emotionally exhausting day and dancing on my bedroom floor like it’s the Bodega on a Wednesday night. Even album tracks like Garden, that seem to tiptoe into your ears much more delicately than others, provide you with all the necessary means to sway along to its lullaby. Again, it is really Vedders’ unusually low bellows that make the song. The chorus, akin to a chant or almost a battle cry, allows its listener to imagine themselves winding through an American desert of deep reflection.
Returning to one of the most popular songs Alive, well, it makes you feel just that. It is a song rooted in personal tragedy, after lead singer Vedder was devastated to learn that the man who he thought was his father, was, in fact, not. Though the meaning of the hook “I’m alive”, began as a curse, Vedder later appealed to the efforts of Pearl Jam fans to shift the track towards a more positive narrative, lifting that curse. Despite its initial meaning, Pearl Jam achieved intimacy with the song, teaching listeners to understand what it means to exist. It begins with a collective instrumental cut and Krusen pulling the track together with flawless drumming, and remains a true classic that rightfully occupies spot twenty-five on Triple J’s ‘Hottest of All Time’ poll.
‘Pearl Jam has some kind of intense grounding power that effortlessly brings its listener back into the present.’
Pearl Jam was never just a part of my parents record collection. It may have started that way, but this historic band has accompanied me through the ups and downs of my life so far, and I suspect it will continue to do so for years to come. Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the good that life has to offer, especially when hours filled with work turn into days and weeks, but Pearl Jam has some kind of intense grounding power that effortlessly brings its listener back into the present. For me, it could not absolutely be missed as a classic to revisit this term. Pearl Jam was wholly instrumental in giving popularity to alternative rock in the nineties, and Ten is undeniably one of the best records ever made within that genre for the perfect mix of hard rock and grunge vocals that it envelops.
Written by: Grace Dalaigh-Taylor
Edited by: Louise Dugan