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Music Review: Pearl Jam – Ten [2CD/1DVD Deluxe Edition]

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In a certain idealistic context, once a band releases an album, that music belongs to its listeners, its songs invariably taking root in people’s lives and affixing a soundtrack to their memories. And so it’s a dicey endeavor whenever a work is tinkered with, especially when done so beyond applying conventional sonic enhancements.

One of the most seminal albums of the Nineties, Pearl Jam’s Ten has now been reissued in an array of formats, its Deluxe Edition (which is reviewed here) comprising two versions of the album as well as six previously unreleased bonus tracks and a DVD of the band’s 1992 appearance on MTV Unplugged.

First and most essential, though, is the album proper, which has been deftly remastered to not only amplify the music’s more pronounced elements, but also to clarify its subtler ones. Peripheral flourishes — like the wah-wah distortions swirling through “Why Go” and “Evenflow” — have been augmented, resulting in a much fuller resonance.

A sufficient (and at times, striking) visual counterpart to Ten remastered is the Unplugged performance, which does a fine job in exhibiting how a lack of electricity doesn’t preclude an insidious rhythm section. Less remarkable, yet still constructive in underscoring this early era of the band are the previously unreleased tracks, of which the improvised “2,000 Mile Blues” trounces the rest of the batch, smoldering all headlong and heavy.

While the remastering job serves the album and its legacy well, the “redux” version — which covers markedly different sonic ground — strikes this writer as blatantly revisionist. The backstory, in a nutshell, is that the band has, for some time, felt dissatisfied with the reverb-laden sound heard on Ten — which Rick Parashar produced — instead preferring the more organic, abrasive tones of their sophomore effort, Vs., which Brendan O’Brien produced. Incidentally, O’Brien has been at the helm of four subsequent Pearl Jam records to date.

With nearly twenty years of hindsight and ever-changing resources, just about any qualified rock ‘n’ roll band could freshen up or tweak some of their past perceived missteps to sound exactly like the music in their minds. With rare exceptions, though, most bands don’t give into that temptation. Whatever technical glitches or audible faults may plague an original production, once the album hits stores and airwaves, then it becomes something more than an exchangeable product. And, along the same idealistic lines of music belonging to its listeners, remixing Ten — to the extent it has on the redux disc — isn’t just modifying some music; it’s infringing on all of the memories and perceptions to which it’s long since been associated and appreciated.

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About Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson is the publisher of www.writeonmusic.com and a freelance music journalist whose byline has appeared in such publications as No Depression, Spinner, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Cinema Sentries, Blinded by Sound, and Blogcritics, where he was the Senior Music Editor (2011-2012) and Assistant Music Editor (2008-2011). He has interviewed and profiled such artists as Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Allen Toussaint, Boz Scaggs, Johnny Marr, Charli XCX, Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Susanna Hoffs, Bruce Hornsby, Delbert McClinton, Jonny Lang, Alan Parsons, Bill Frisell, Rickie Lee Jones, Christina Perri, Don Felder (The Eagles), Jimmy Webb, Katie Melua, and Buddy Guy, among many others.
  • Hmm. Interesting argument here. Especially when you consider that none of the O’Brien produced albums sold in near the sort of numbers that Ten did.

    I haven’t heard this “redux” version yet, so I’ll withhold judgment for now. But it’s never a great idea to screw with something that has long since come to be regarded as a classic, regardless of whether the artist was happy with it or not.


  • joe

    o’brien didnt produce every album after..he did the next four but not them all

  • Jordan Richardson

    Joe, that’s exactly what Donald said:

    Incidentally, O’Brien has been at the helm of four subsequent Pearl Jam records to date.

    I’m somewhat interested in this, although I’m actually more anxious to see what some of the other reissues are going to be like. O’Brien is said to be back in the saddle for PJ’s next album, so that should also be interesting.

  • Ha, well, Donald, we definitely have different views on this one, though we’re both dissatisfied – just for different reasons. (My review will be up later.)

    I don’t even address the remaster, which I think is pretty bad and pointless – the original album sounds great and needed no remaster (I’ll never listen to the remastered original again, most likely. The original or remix will be my go-to versions.) The remixed album is great, but very loud, but pretty much fits the MO of O’Brien these days, unfortunately – good mix, bad mastering. I love the style, I just don’t like the sound.