1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 333

Ten, by Pearl Jam
Suggested by Liberty Dent

Album Thee Three Three… A third of the way through the project, barring a couple of hundred words to make the rounding work. So, who’s stepping to the plate to mark this momentous milestone? It’s Pearl Jam, with their seminal album Ten.

For Album 333, I’m reviewing Ten. In a fit of whimsy, I did a little trollish Googling. Apparently, the comedy band Green Jelly, of Three Little Pigs fame, released an album called 333 back in 1994. If I’d reviewed that back as Album 10, today would have been truly epic.

I feel that I’ve run the gauntlet of fuzzy grungy rock of late. Just last week I have the dubious pleasure of tackling Kyuss, followed by the actual pleasure of reviewing Queens of the Stone Age. Earlier in the project, I’ve faced down Alice in Chains, Nirvana, even Temple of the Dog who are apparently made up almost exclusively of Pearl Jam members. But until today, I’ve never given but the shortest shrift to Pearl Jam themselves.

For a time, Pearl Jam where everywhere. They were a seminal cornerstone of the Seattle Grunge scene in the early Nineties, forming a Big Four with Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and of course Nirvana. Their debut album, Ten, while ostensibly a grunge record, had a solid foundation of hard rock that caused some facets of the music press, and indeed the cardiganed curmudgeon Kurt Cobain himself, to brand the band as corporate shills. As I spent a chunk of the early Nineties clinging on to the bullet-belt and backpatch life, I rejected grunge in its myriad devilish forms. Pearl Jam were a notable casualty of this warring mindset.

Listening to Ten for the first time today, I recognise a slew of songs that proved to be high-performing singles. Alive, my standout Even Flow, and Jeremy all have a recognition value, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them immensely. Sure, the grunge gunge is plastered on the instrumentation, but Vedder’s southern drawl is charming, and the songwriting is comprehensive. The rock roots are exposed, and it’s a solid album because of it.

An unexpected joy I found is the deftness with which Pearl Jam cycle through the peaks and troughs of pacing, moving from driven tracks such as Alive to slower numbers such as Oceans or Black with little fuss or finagle. While a lot of the album is pitched at what I’d call Standard Rock Pose speed, there’s enough nuance and melodia to make you almost forget the grunge entirely. This is, of course, the impossible dream, but we all must reach for those stars.

As the album continued, I found myself enjoying it more and more. This was a surprise, given my historic misgivings, but maybe it can be explained by the band’s sheer pervasiveness in my early Nineties experience. While I never listened to the album by design, I’m sure I danced to most of it at rock nights at my local watering hole, or piped in the background at student parties. In many ways, this virgin listen felt very much like visiting an old friend.

While symmetry dictates I offer Ten a 10, I’m afraid that ain’t happening. But Vedder and pals should be more than happy with a well-earned 8/10. Consider me converted.

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