ALTERNA-NATION RISING Pearl Jam

With the
release of debut album
Ten in 1991, the
Seattle band steered classic rock in a whole new direction.

 

BY
GILLIAN G. GAAR

 

If
not for a little album called Nevermind,
1991 might have been the year of Pearl Jam (indeed, when opening for Nirvana on
December 31, 1991, guitarist Stone Gossard played a few riffs of “Smells Like
Teen Spirit” between songs and joked, “Remember, we played it first!”). But
while Nirvana has become increasingly mythologized since Kurt Cobain’s suicide/martyrdom
in 1994, Pearl Jam is still standing, and directing their own reassessment of
their history, beginning with their debut album, Ten.

 

In
retrospect, it’s strange to think that Ten,
and even Pearl Jam, were lumped into the “alternative rock” category, as their
music so obviously draws on the classic rock tradition; well crafted songs,
topped by the bluesy angst of lead vocalist Eddie Vedder. But it was, of
course, that very angst that became synonymous with “alternative rock” and
“grunge,” and songs like “Jeremy” – written at a time when school shootings
were anomalies instead of the expected, even routine, occurrences they are now
-even more bittersweet than when the album was originally released.
Nonetheless, Pearl Jam had a knack for making ostensibly gloomy material
strangely uplifting, most notably in “Alive,” whose story is rooted in Vedder’s
troubled family life, but which became in concert a bonafide, singalong arena
rock anthem. The band also exudes a heartfelt sincerity that’s noticeably
missing from our ever-more dumbed down American
Idol
-ized music world.

 

That
sincerity won Pearl Jam the most rabidly devoted following this side of the
Grateful Dead, and the fans are being rewarded with not one, not two, not even
three, but four different editions of Ten (issued by Epic/Legacy, and also available at PearlJam.com). The standard set
features two CDs, one with the complete album, the other with the album newly
remixed by producer Brendan O’Brien. It’s cleaner-sounding, but was a remix really
necessary? After all, the original album suited its 12 million customers just
fine. But you also get six bonus tracks, including a couple of demos recorded
when the band was briefly going by the name Mookie Blaylock. The deluxe edition
throws in a DVD with the band’s excellent 1992 MTV Unplugged performance. There’s also a vinyl set (de rigueur these days), and they go all
out on the “Super Deluxe Edition,” which has all of the above, plus a buoyant
September 20, 1992 Seattle concert (on vinyl), and a replica of an early demo
on cassette, the legendary “Momma
Son,” demo, with early versions of “Alive,” “Once,” and “Footsteps,” the very
demo that won Vedder a place in the group. Oh, and you also get reproductions
of flyers and other goodies, plus an “Eddie Vedder-style composition notebook.”
Whew.

 

Ten is also just
the beginning of a two-year campaign of reissues that will culminate with their
20th anniversary in 2011. And after this reissue, they’ve set the
bar pretty high for their subsequent releases.

 

 

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