As a band approaches their third, and even fourth decade, they usually start to dwindle in quality, surviving off the often vast catalog of hits they may have created during that time. For Pearl Jam, who’s long weird journey began in 1990, being a band in their 30’s has only made them more independent and aware of what works. They still play 3 hour sets each night, often with a drastically different setlist than the nights before and after. Today we share the Top Five records by Pearl Jam. This list features some stuff you’ll immediately recognize, and some you aren’t as well versed in. Thanks for reading!
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. By the band's third record, they were arguably the biggest rock band around, but with the Ticketmaster controversy still happening, the band found themselves up against a wall, commercially. “Vitalogy” kicks off with rockers in the shape of “Last Exit” and the punk rock tinges of “Spin the Black Circle.” Still, there’s plenty of emotionally raw numbers for the emotional PJ fans. Case in point, “Nothingman,” with its slow, somber, and wonderful narrative. The vocals are day dreams of an abandoned illusion consisting of what dreams we chose to forget and not pursue. It’s this emotional pull and push that makes the song so beautifully tragic. Songs like that stand musically apart from tracks like “Corduroy” or the haunting consistently of “Tremor Christ,” that ramp up the musical intensity. 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 NO CODE (1996)
Even among the hardcore PJ fans I’ve met, it’s rare to hear this being ladued as one of their best, but “No Code.” to me is the brilliance coming out from darkness in a manner most wouldn’t expect from the Seattle titans. The opener is slow yes, which helps once you get to the rocking “Hail Hail,” all the way to the blink and you’ll miss it “Lukin.” There’s also plenty of epic moments throughout. “Present tense” is a master stroke of alternative brilliance, with the lyrical component being serene but also eye opening. The album overall wasn’t as commercially successful, which is strange given its content, but everyone has an overlooked album. It's not quite to the level of, say, a “Pinkerton'' (the early Weezer album that was initially dismissed by fans) but still, it's hard for me to understand why this one didn’t do as well. Sure the hits aren’t as soaring and obvious, but tracks like “In My Tree,”with its tribal drum beat and Vedder's wide ranging voice, prove that the record isn’t one to be missed. I’ve fallen in love heavy with this record in the last year or so, and continue to hope everyone will give it another chance.
3 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.
2 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.
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!
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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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