Tuesday, 24 August 2010

'King Jeremy the wicked ruled his world' by @diarofaledger

Poor old Peal Jam, always in the shadow of Cobain and Co and the album everyone owns (Ten), was blown out of the water by it's successor (V's).  'Ten' isn't a bad album at all, but it's fascinating to listen to retrospectively with the weight of twenty years of history to judge it by.

When Pearl Jam and Nirvana arrived in 1991 the rivalry, mainly stoked up by Cobain's manic desire to retain credibility, was pretty intense.  These were the bands at the forefront of the new alt rock movement sweeping the globe but when you take those two albums, 'Ten' and Nirvana's second offering 'Nevermind', Jesus, they sound a world apart from one another.

Listening to 'Ten' now I'm struck by a couple of things.  Firstly AT would love this album.  Secondly, it's so traditional in style that it's clear Pearl Jam got caught up in 'Grunge' big time.  It wasn't a scene they ever seemed comfortable with, they just happened to fit the bill in terms of the clothes they wore.

Eddie Vedder's voice still sounds unbelievable.  It's got something guttural and broken to it but sits perfectly over the racket behind it.

It's all a bit too earnest at times and as much as I love 'Jeremy' and 'Alive' there are better songs on the album that are less deliberately soaked in, 'My Dad's not my real Dad and my Mum's a drunk, feel sorry for me, thanks,' style lyrics and sing along choruses.  'Black' and 'Oceans' which bookmark 'Jeremy' are both great examples of songs that should probably be better known than they are, both beautifully arranged and almost Zeppelin esque.

'Garden' is another song that sounds like it was born in the 70s, slow and throbbing with a great chorus, Vedder's voice almost soulful.

The trouble with 'Ten' is that next to the opposition it doesn't stand up, at least not in my eyes.  It fades in its later stages, where as 'Nevermind' is just a relentless downward spiral into Cobain's depression.  You can sort of see why Cobain thought Vedder was a faker.  But it's about lightness of touch for me, Cobain was the master of saying a lot without really saying anything and Vedder's words are just spelling it all out.  All the time.  Of course then Cobain then had to prove how 'for real' he was by killing himself, honestly just carve it in your arm with a razor.

'Ten' ends with the sombre 'Release' where sadly Vedder opts to sing like the lead bloke from The Crash Test Dummies.  It's a pity because musically it's a great tune. 

Out of those two big tracks from 'Ten' I prefer 'Jeremy', probably because there's an f-bomb in there that always seemed to get missed by Radio 1 back in the day.  My eighteen year old self (fuck, come back 1991 I was down with the cool kids for like a nano second) would have loved that.  'Alive'?  It has a quite brilliant end but the lyrics leave me cold.

The most interesting thing about Pearl Jam is that having been accused of selling out like rock whores to the major labels they slowly went and did everything they could to not play the game.  Their star has waned, but they still have a huge and loyal following, as one of the great traditional American rock bands, which it turned out they were all along, it's just that we didn't notice.

If you want an introduction to Pearl Jam, start with 'Ten' but get 'V's' pretty soon afterwards, it's a fantastic rock album that I loved a whole lot more than their d├ębut.  'Vitalogy' isn't bad either.

Here endeth the lesson.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't start with Ten! It's great but dated. If you are going to get it get the reissue with the different production, makes the songs sound really good again.

But get VS. Possibly ythe best album ever made.