Wednesday, April 28, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘Ten,’ Pearl Jam (1991)

A few months ago I wrote about how some bands work up to their best material, and others give you their best work right away. In Pearl Jam’s case, it was a bit of both.

“Ten” is the sound of … release. These guys had been slogging away at the music business for years—going nowhere—and all of a sudden they got in a room together and their talents complemented one another perfectly, in a way only a select few bands experience. Written in just a few days, the album is like one cathartic anthem broken into 11 parts. It would be more another 15 years before they’d write a collection of songs with such a clear purpose and unified sound.

Strangely enough, “Ten” also sounds like nothing the band’s recorded since. It was a get-to-know-you record, where they sought common ground among a wide array of influences that ended up merging classic rock, metal, and punk into a fusion of what they’d help define as “alternative.” Since this album, the band’s gone beyond their comfort zones to varying levels of success. I get the feeling none of their subsequent CDs have come together nearly as easily or naturally—mostly by design.

I’ve had a twisted relationship with “Ten” not unlike many PJ fans, I imagine. It was the first “alternative” record I ever heard, and, thus, changed my life forever. I listened to it incessantly for a period of time, but familiarity eventually bred a little contempt. Like the band members themselves, I got sick of these songs and convinced myself “Ten” was just, you know, OK.

What a crock. For years I just haven’t wanted to be one of those lame people who say it’s the band’s best album because I felt that somehow demeaned the rest of Pearl Jam’s catalog. But just because I feel they’ve done even better songs since doesn’t mean there’s ever been so many of them on one CD. And it doesn’t mean praise for “Ten” is synonymous with saying it defines Pearl Jam’s sound or the sum total of the band’s legacy—because it definitely does not. If they’d wanted to, they probably could have written 10 more “Tens.” But then they wouldn’t be who they are, and I probably wouldn’t be going to see them again next month. They likely wouldn’t even still be together.

This is a great record. A classic with nary a weak point. While it’s not my personal favorite Pearl Jam release, I can’t objectively point to another one that’s better.

Grade: A

Favorite Track: “Alive”

Other Favorite Track: “Release”

Least Favorite Track: “Deep”

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