It was 24 Years Ago Today: Pearl Jam's "Ten" Is Released!


Like many, I know exactly where I was the first time I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the radio. I remember pulling my car to the side of the road and cranking the volume knob, not quite believing what I was hearing. It wasn't that I hadn't heard anything like it, but thatI hadn't heard it on a mainstream radio station.

Like that first Nirvana moment, I also remember where I was the first time I heard Pearl Jam a month prior to Nevermind's release. That's right, the release of Ten pre-dated Nevermind by roughly a month so when I read about Pearl Jam as part of a Rolling Stone article on this burgeoning musical movement called "grunge", my ears and mind were a clean slate anticipating any and all new musical genres.
 
So I trucked on over to the local record store, procured a copy of Ten and, once home, gave it a serious listen.

The next day, I sold it back to the record store for three dollars and put that three bucks towards and promptly erased Pearl Jam from my mental hard drive.

See, what I heard was a mealy-mouthed singer grunting over the most basic of musical backing. On song after song, it was as if the band was going out of their way to be non-melodic. There were no majestic guitar riffs, no soaring choruses, no discernible lyrics that spoke to me on any level.

In a lot of ways, Eddie Vedder reminded me of early Michael Stipe; if Michael had yelled above the sludgy musical backing of his bandmates. They shared a flair for unintelligible lyrics, but whereas as Stipe's dripped with subtlety and nuance, Vedder's dripped with jock sweat.

It came as quite a surprise that Pearl Jam were soon all over the radio and MTV, but as no surprise at all that jocks and frat boys comprised a large part of their audience. In Pearl Jam, they now had an "alternative" band to call their own, thereby allowing them to stop pretending to "get" Jane's Addiction, who, by then, were on the skids anyway.

The popularity of Pearl Jam's video for "Jeremy".directed by Mark Pennington, has often been mistaken for popularity for the song itself, which is completely misguided. Without the compelling visual component of the video, which does little more than act out the song's lyrics in the most basic fashion, the song itself is easily forgettable despite its horrific subject matter.

But, alas, this being 1991 and MTV still very much having the youth of America in a stranglehold, Pearl Jam soon found themselves going from playing small venues to sharing the spotlight with the likes of Metallica and Guns 'n' Roses while the aforementioned Jane's Addiction waved goodbye to the world by headlining the firs Lollapalooza music festival.

In this writer's estimation, there is a certain symmetry to Jane's Addiction riding off into the sunset and Pearl Jam immediately sweeping in to co-opt most of their audience because, had Jane's addiction remained a vital concern, they would have revealed all of Pearl Jam's weaknesses.

Listening to 1988's Nothing's Shocking, one can't help but think that the subversive L.A. band was, a the very least, a moderate influence on the members of Pearl Jam.  What ultimately ruined the party for Jane's singer Perry Farrell - besides the drugs and inner-band squabbling - had been seeing his band embraced by the frat crowd, which had been all but predicted in the song "Idiots Rule".

Despite the massive success of Ten, there's nothing to be found therein that packs as much of a punch, or shows as much subtlety or nuance, as "Mountain Song" or "Oceansize" and even when Jane's dumb it dow a tad, as on "Had A Dad or "Pigs In Zen", they still create something that far surpasses anything Pearl Jam would ever record. 

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