Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Pearl Jam - Ten (1991)

Pearl Jam probably mark the point at which I lost touch with the kids on the street and what was going down, having given up on mainstream music papers, radio, and bothering to go to gigs unless forced to do so. My girlfriend's younger sister had just moved in with us in hope of finding work in that London, and being younger she was still very much in touch with the kids on the street and what was going down, and she had this album by Pearl Jam who were massive even though I'd never heard of them. Each day as I sat waiting for Countdown to come on the telly whilst filling in my pension forms and having a nice cup of tea with some custard creams, Ten would be playing somewhere in the background, over and over until I began to appreciate it. So I bought this just because I remember Even Flow and Alive being pretty darned great.

Twenty-five years later, the record initially sounds so unfamiliar as to come as a bit of a shock, particularly having since picked up admittedly spurious associations with other, much heavier bands of Seattle heritage. In fact on first listen it sounds like Simple Minds, and not the good Simple Minds - the good Simple Minds meaning everything prior to but not necessarily including Live in the City of Light. It sounds like REO Speedwagon in a checked shirt with a bit more stubble than usual - big, fat stadium rock fronted by a man singing through a mouth full of Sugar Puffs.

Anyway, I persisted because Even Flow and Alive still sounded as good as I recalled, just about, and it once took me fifteen years to fully appreciate a Soundgarden album due to the fact that I played it once and then didn't bother after that. Thankfully, persistence paid off, and Ten began to work after three or four spins, even losing some of the stadium rock sheen.

I think the problem is that Pearl Jam are actually a sort of wholefood biker band - grizzled, leathery and existing on a diet of chicken and grits just like Steppenwolf and all of those guys, but thankfully minus all the back door woman, you set my soul on faaah crap. The songs are mostly folksy introspection for truckers - or at least people who don't necessarily have anything against truckers - sort of like how Nirvana might have sounded had they held back from writing songs about how they only want cool people listening to their music. Accordingly Ten really needed a bluesier producer, Albini or Jack Endino or one of those guys, just someone with an approach other than how much more reverb would you like? These songs don't really need to sound like the drummer is located at two miles distance from the guitarist because the scale is inherent to the material, which is surprisingly understated for having one of those gruff ol' teddy bear of rock guys on the microphone.

Very good, and better than I remember despite that initial bout of hiccups.

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