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Music Review: Pearl Jam – Ten (3 Disc Deluxe Edition)

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I’m trying to imagine being 18 and listening to Ten for the first time like I did when I was 18 when it came out in 1991. I can’t. I can only imagine listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, which I must have heard as an album for the first time somewhere around that time. That album, which would also be 18 years old at that time, as Ten is today, didn’t feel like an epic to me yet but a bunch of well-worn songs that I was already well-familiar with, songs that had been saturated into culture by radio and TV. I imagine that the songs of Ten may feel that way to many younger listeners today. The album, as a whole, may lack the impact it had on us when it struck in August of 1991. Time has embedded many of these songs into our collective soundtrack of the 90s.

When Pearl Jam appeared on the scene, like the other big names that came to represent grunge, they seemed so drastically different. Listening to the album with fresh ears it’s a little harder to hear why this was so shocking. Today, the music on Ten sounds like what it is – less showy hard rock. The solos that many decried grunge for doing away with are still there in abundance, they’re just not as technical – they’re simply emotive. The lyrics are still filled with the kind of thing everyone latches onto – angst, mainly, feeling lost in the world, etc. Classic stuff. Maybe it just seemed so different to us 18 year olds who had been listening to, and grown tired of, the Warrants of the music world snickering about “Cherry Pie” for the past few years. The stuff of Pearl Jam’s lyrics is the stuff of most of classic rock’s lyrics.

If anything, it was the sound that dated the album to a specific time, something made obvious after the band settled into a style with their next couple of albums which was so strikingly different than that of Ten‘s glossy sound. The band was obviously dissatisfied, too, calling in producer Brendan O’Brien to remix several tracks for the rearviewmirror compilation, which seemed to point the way to disc two of this year’s Ten reissue, named Ten Redux and completely remixed by O’Brien. And what we get here is a sort of middle-ground that changes the album as we knew it but isn’t really all that different, either. Gone is the de rigueur late 80s/early 90s reverb that drenched the vocals and especially the drums, but obviously still present is the structure of the songs that makes it still feel related to the period – big guitar solos and big, soaring choruses that we never quite heard again in their catalog. It was Pearl Jam filtered through the hard rock of the time then, and it still is now – there’s no remixing that can change that. And that’s a good thing.

For a celebration of this game-changing album, it seems strange that some of the pieces are missing. In the deluxe, 3-disc edition, you get the original album remastered on the first disc, the remixed Ten Redux on disc 2 along with a handful of demos, and the famous MTV Unplugged session on DVD (at long last.) But what is missing are some tracks to be found elsewhere, plus a couple just plain missing. Sure, we get “Brother” in finished form, complete with vocals, and it’s great, but we only get demos of “Breath And A Scream” and “State Of Love And Trust” rather than the originals from the Singles soundtrack. Where are “Footsteps,” “Wash,” “Dirty Frank,” and most notably, “Yellow Ledbetter”? Oh, they’re on Lost Dogs. They should be here, where they belong. They can be on Lost Dogs, too, but Ten should be complete with all of the various b-sides that went along with it, such as the live versions of “Alive,” “Why Go,” and “Deep,” the “Oceans” remix, and their cover of the Beatles’ “I’ve Got A Feeling” – all now in catalog limbo, all of which would likely have fit on the two discs.

Instead we get a mixed selection of demos, from “Breath And A Scream” and the great, rollicking power of “State Of Love And Trust,” which finds the band hollering their approval at the end (and I agree,) to complete wastes of time like the sloppy “2000 Mile Blues,” which has me asking, “Must every band play the blues at some point, no matter how ill-advised?” You’ll never listen to this again, nor joke song “Evil Little Goat,” and neither add anything to the Ten story.

More interesting, if not a great song, is “Just A Girl,” which finds the band working on what would one day become “Even Flow.” Ignoring the obviously different lyrics, it’s fascinating to hear how the band was influenced by the hard rock of the time and how it simply didn’t fit them – they had yet to slip into something that really suited them. But elements of Seattle are all around the song – their origins in Mother Love Bone are clearly evident, but that foundation is giving way quickly.

What the Ten set today presents us with is a revised Ten that misses a great opportunity to wrap up everything that fans really wanted. In the end, that’s what is going to be remembered about this. The remix will go appreciated for stripping away some of the detrimental effects of the style of the time, but most fans will look back and wish the label had packed in all of the material they remembered and loved from the time – the songs on the singles that were just as important as the great album itself. The album has set itself in stone and there is no budging it, there’s no denying that. It’s unfortunate that it can’t be said that this is the absolute ultimate version of that album.

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About Tom Johnson

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Ya know Tom… SPOT ON!! Though, I do feel what made Ten great was the Electric Blues aspect they had integrated into their brand of “grunge”. That somehow managed to fly over everyone’s head at the time. I think it was that people wanted to hear some good & raw Rock instead of those Sex crazed Glam boys. I don’t think the term “Grunge” does any justice for the few great bands that emerged during that time…

    Anyways, I totally agree about the exclusion of the singles that were so crucial to the PJ experience. Those were such collector’s items but they were worth it and it’s a damn shame they weren’t apart of this set. I really thought that was the reason why they were re-releasing the older albums.

    As for my feelings about the albums after the Singles Soundtrack(their best songs) and the re-engineering of Ten, I’ll have to come back to that when I have the time.

    Still, Great Article! Right on the Money!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    *Btw* Did you know that on the live version of Alive that they had the drummer from Eddie Brickell[Matt Chamberlain]?! Yea..He played with them for a very short time,but, he was also the one who recommended the phenomenal Mr.Dave Abbruzzese.

    I mean, I had a feeling back then but I didn’t have the internet so I couldn’t confirm it until recently! When I would see the video for “What I am”, I would just flip because they had a very similar style…

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    I knew Chamberlain was in the band at some point, but for a short while there, they was a revolving door instead of drum stool – Dave Krusen, him, Abbruzzese, Jack Irons, and finally Matt Cameron.

    But you’re right, “grunge” quickly became a derogatory term and I wish I could have addressed that. It didn’t really fit in with the theme, I guess. Just this weekend while listening I was thinking how, even for the loose genre of grunge, they, like Soundgarden, really didn’t fit. I guess they just needed to call it something to differentiate it from the other stuff out there. Now it seems totally meaningless.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I hear ya Tom… I really wasn’t implying that it should have been in your article because going off on a tangent about a genre(like I do) would have taken away from your nice work. You really show a true sense of that time period with this article which sent me reminiscing and caused me to think about the few bands that really didn’t fit, like AIC, Mad Season, Temple of the Dog,etc…