As a group in their third decade, there’s not much the band hasn’t accomplished. Sure it hasn’t been one perfect ride, there's been suffering amid successes, but through it all the core of the band: Vedder, Gossard, Ament, & McCreedy have consistently stuck to their guns, often at their own peril. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still a hugely popular band, but in the mainstream current atmosphere of trendy music for trendy sake, they’ve been reduced to a dad band of sorts, even though the music is still evocative, emotional and sharp tongued both in its orientation but instrumentation as well. As we conclude our unofficial “PJ” month, I wanted to take an untraditional route in discussing the bands history, so today we discuss the bands top five albums, that I believe have had the most positive influence on the band's success. Enjoy.
5. VITALOGY: 1994
We start our countdown with a record from the early days when Pearl Jam as a unit went to war with Ticketmaster and all the chaos and change that forced. Essentially during the touring cycle of this record, with its success carried by mega hit “Better Man,” the band was seeking better arrangements for fans and artists alike. As you probably know ticketmaster is still a price gouging monokey, but for the first time a major band was saying we’re going to play untraditional venues to get a better deal for everyone not working at ticketmaster. The tour, with Ramones as support, was a success, but the album in my memory became less of a focal point than the controversy itself, which is a shame because the album rocks throughout. Tracks like the hauntingly consistent “Tremor Christ,” nestled next to tearjerkers like “Nothingman,” with all its sorrow and regret. But then you get songs like the utterly odd “Bugs” thrown in while also including “Immortality.” Give it a listen soon, it's better than you remember.
4. RIOT ACT: 2002
Pretty much from the start of the band's career they’ve meandered occasionally into the world of political commentary, often to great success. This record is seeping with turmoil and unhappiness, and for the most part it's immediate in speed and intensity. Vedder is in fine form throughout, yet the band seems to steer the way more here than on other records in my opinion. “Save You,” the second track is as punk and angst driven as the band gets, but by the next track we’re serenaded with the romantic but apocalyptic sentiment of “Love Boat Captain,” which is a harsh departure but one that’s welcome. This type of versatility is consistent with the band from their first records. Never afraid to take a risk, mixing styles and rambles with genuinely heartfelt passages. This was made in part during the early Bush years, and as reflected in the albums title, it's an early call to action at times for a band that was vehemently against his candidacy and ultimate election. Just look at the not so subtle knock of “Bu$leaguer” and how Vedder dissects Bush’s “pathway” to success, as if it were earned. Either way, i feel like this often gets dismissed as not being as good as it is, when in fact it's better in many ways and shows a real emotional growth to the band.
3. YIELD: 1998
In 98 i was just figuring out my love of not just rock but metal and other varieties, but I’ll always remember getting this one random Sunday at a backwoods walmart i happened to be in with my mom. I loved “Brain of J” and the harsh reality of change it put in the forefront. The song obviously is a pointed look at the death of President Kennedy, but it's also written from the perspective of a person who grew up without seminal events happening just before his arrival, growing up in a different world than the one his parents mentioned. The album feels more sentimental than many of their others to me as well, with songs like “Given to Fly” being a sort of life affirming moment you can only get from good ole’ american rock music. The one two punch of “Given” and “Wishlist” also earmark the band as truly american in their attitudes, loves and philosophies. Next to Tom Petty maybe, I can’t think of a band better suited to address the woes of modern blue collar Americans, even if they are rich these days. “Yield” as a record has this ability to settle you while discussing the harsh realities of our world. It even knows when to be sarcastic in the form of a rant known as “Do the Evolution,” which again thumbs its nose at our constructs and institutions. Track after track is stellar, concluding with rockers like “MFC,” anthems in the way of “In Hiding,” and plenty of other memorables tracks. Also, having Matt Cameron of Soundgarden fame join the fold really helped things along in terms of creativity.
2. VS.: 1993
From the opening moments of “Vs.” all the way until the conclusion of “Indifference” there’s a certain gritty danger permeating through this record. That danger morphs and changes as the record goes, with “Daughter” being one of the more gentle sounding songs, even if it’s only musically tender and not lyrically gentle. Tracks like “Animal” and album opener “Go” both have that raw energy coasting through them, but then you have a track like “Elderly Woman…” which showcases the anger and reservations of never leaving a small town like so many others who gave up on experiencing the world. On the other end of that, there are songs like “Blood” and “Leash” that are as aggressive as the band gets during the 45 or so minute runtime of the record. Overall the record delivers in different ways than its blockbuster predecessor, but it’s way more immediate in movement than their debut was, and you can tell the time between records, albeit small, did help to make the band better than they were before, even if the record didn’t end up being as perfect or popular as “Ten.” When listening to songs like like the earlier mentioned “Blood” you feel vindicated in battle, as if you’re fighting with every fiber of your life, while during selections like the classic “Rearviewmirror” you feel the need to figuratively haul ass away from the dangers of the present, bracing for change. All of this encompasses the struggles and action among the band to strive to be their best.
1. TEN: 1991
What can you really say about “Ten” at this point that hasn’t been stated before? Mostly nothing, except that it’s just as good, Maybe better than you remember. When I began writing this, I was fairly certain my number two choice, “Vs.” was going to be the number one. That is, until I actually listened to “Ten” for the first time in god knows how many years. What I found was that not only have certain songs become more relevant than ever, but also songs that have more emotion running through them than your average rock band. From the start it’s clear Vedder wore his massive heart on his sleeve. Songs like “Alive” deal with the pain only family’s can provide, while opener “Once” flies above the real world Problems inherent in the lyrics. Then you have tracks like the ominous and heartbreaking “Black,” not to mention the now commonly occurring themes that make “Jeremy” all the more terrifying and eye opening. Many times listening to “Ten” I felt that familiar connection to the lyrical content simmering throughout “Tens” duration. It’s not only one of the best rock albums of the still getting farther away 90’s, but also the best collection of songs the five Piece of Seattle has ever conjured up. Thanks for reading!
Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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