Given that “10 good reasons to worship EDDIE VEDDER” has been one of the most popular posts on this blog, I thought it’d be rad to share a little bit more of PEARL JAM with you guys. Say what? Don’t tell me you haven’t been converted to the PJ cult yet. It won’t take long, because I’ll try my best to convince you with 10 tracks. Open up your rock chakras, let it be filled with a full-on dose of beauty and fire…
As a young offshoot of Seattle grunge scene of the late 80’s, PEARL JAM has contributed to make this movement become as mythic as we know, bringing it on the biggest international stages as well as on top of the charts, since the release of their first album “Ten”. The latter is no more no less the best album they ever released, pure rock perfection. Now three facts:
PEARL JAM can be counted among the most marking rock bands of the last 20 years, as free and independent as they are, they’ve always done exactly what they wanted, by constantly acting in adequacy to their convictions.
PEARL JAM can be counted among the living standard bearers of the grunge movement, with its characteristic rebel attitude and charismatic frontman. However, PEARL JAM is also a band of brothers who grew up listening to The Who, the Ramones or Jimi Hendrix, although their music would rather borrow its sound to classic rock than punk, feeling rather deep than rageous.
PEARL JAM is a voice, one of the most outstanding voices of all times: Eddie Vedder (see eulogy here). The magnetism being at its height, everything was set to make the band become huge. Here are ten – in chronological order- songs to prove you all the greatness of PEARL JAM. Now open your ears wide, please.
DEEP (“Ten” – 1991)
The one who said Pearl Jam plays basic FM music is an idiot. “Deep” knocks down prejudices by getting back to the origins of rock music, getting every listener high from the first power chord to the very last. The reason why this atypical song is so addictive however remains to be seen. Is it the sexy bluesiness and the consuming bottleneck sound? Is it the audacious and groovy feeling created by the Ament-Krusen duo? Is it Vedder and his edgy lyrics that always point out the things that go wrong with great panache? A “devil in disguise” energy emanates from the song, appealing our souls, consuming them straight away. Deeply hitting the spot…
ONCE (“Ten” – 1991)
If there’s one song that definitely represents the band’s early days spirit, it’s “Once”. A catchy riff, a hammering rhythm section, a kickass solo that remains stuck in your brain for days, Eddie Vedder’s psychotic flow… The man delivers, or should I say DECLAIMS his words like an MC (when it’s sometimes hard to get a single word he says) with this sublime hoarse voice of his. “Once” could easily take on hit track “Even Flow”, for they both have an irresistible electric and frantic twist… yet Once’s strength lies in the fact it sounds more revolutionary and dramatic than “Even Flow”. Knowing that he’s telling the story of a psycho killer in the first person, there’s no surprise.
BLACK (“MTV Unplugged” – 1992)
“Black” is PEARL JAM’s emblematic ballad, in the same way as “Nothing Else Matters” is for Metallica or “Still Loving You” is for Scorpions. These are some songs that make even the toughest dudes wipe away a tear. The Unplugged rendition of “Black” transcends a thousand times the original, its interpretation being even more heart-rending and soul-stirring. It will make your vitals melt into a puddle of sadness. A whisker away from breaking down, Eddie sings “Black” like never before, with power and sorrow. It sounds so painful that you’d be tempted to take his hand and whisper “don’t worry son, you’ll be fine”. Or get another hankie to dry your tears.
RATS (“Vs” – 1993)
“Rats” is one very underrated song, yet it worths its weight in gold just because of its shabby jazz club atmosphere… You don’t get it? The slide guitar, the funky rhythm – ah, Dave Abbruzzese! – and of course, Ed who’s furiously shows his contempt for these rats. This song is actually a hint to Phil Karlson’s 1972 movie “Ben” – the story of a kid who adopts a rat, which turns out to be an evil pernicious little animal, but we all already know that. The song has a totally rough and awkward dimension, and there’s no doubt Pearl Jam used to excel on this kind of jammy tracks (cf. the bonus tracks on “Ten” deluxe edition). More!
ANIMAL (“Vs” – 1993)
Even though Pearl Jam’s music often perfectly fits radio standards, it can also reach an unsuspected level of violence. No need to be trash-talking, you just have to shoot straight into the bull’s eye with the right words and a simple but killer riff. “I’d rather be with an animal…” are the words for exasperation, frustration and angst. Eddie’s way of releaaaaaaaaaasiiiiiing all this, is way better for sanity than any big ass punching bag. This vibrant song provides an unrivaled feeling of relief and freedom. Add to that another genius guitar solo by Mike McCready, and you’ve got the icing on the cake. Yum, Pearl Jam, no doubt I’d be your animal…
NOT FOR YOU (“Vitalogy” – 1994)
This song is like dropping a fucking bomb, period. Musically speaking, it is perfect. But what is even more perfect is Vedder’s rendition (once again). With a trembling and rough voice, the man is about to lose it… and he actually does! Like in a roller-coaster, “Not For You” starts gently, then explodes in intensity and makes the bridge feels all rickety, to explodes again at the end, all the instruments jostling together in a fabulous rock’n’roll firework. That kind of loud and committed of track, we would never forget, and it will always remind us that PEARL JAM used to come from a dissident movement of bygone days called “grunge”…
YOU ARE (“Riot Act” – 2002)
It’s funny to think Matt Cameron wrote this song, as it has been proven to be one of the most amazing and intoxicating songs the band has ever created. Firstly, there’s this blending of delayed guitars – noticeably reminding of Tom Morello’s style. Then the serenity… and Eddie’s voice. Deeply sensual on the verses, he tears our guts out and brings us on cloud nine during the choruses. Best moment: the last verse “I am the shoreline, but you’re…the sea“, after which McCready’s guitar takes flight to redolent whales songs. To be played on repeat.
ALL OR NONE (“Riot Act” – 2002)
The time has gone, Pearl Jam have cooled their ardor – even if the rebel attitude still remains in some way – and their frontman has vocally gained in depth and maturity. “All Or None” is a beautiful, marvelous proof of this maturity, with a perfect half-acoustic cabaret style atmosphere. This delightful serenity prompts us to listen carefully to each word, each vibration. Our eyes close… “All Or None” oozes the melancholic beauty that wonderfully reflects the band’s state of mind at this period.
DIRTY FRANK (“Ten” Deluxe Reissue – 2009)
Di you know? Pearl Jam members have been long-time fans of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and both bands have been long-time friends. “Dirty Frank” is a spoof track that takes the Red Hot’s gimmickry, in which Eddie Vedder roughly tells us the story of a cannibal serial killer. Now that’s a hell of basis! Let’s not forget that in “Pearl Jam”, there’s “jam”, and whatever implies a jam, implies a great delight for the ears – even though the latter is about getting away with murder. “Dirty Frank” is fun, surprising, filthy and dangerously exciting. Spending the night with him would almost sound like an option… “Where is Mike McCready ? MY GOD, HE’S BEEN ATE !!!”
BREATH AND A SCREAM (“Ten” Deluxe Reissue – 2009)
Without Stone Gossard, Pearl Jam’s best riffs wouldn’t have seen daylight. He’s been holding the rhythm section for 20 years now, regardless he is Ten’s master carpenter, and that’s no mean feat! The main riff for “Breath” is a striking demonstration of Stone’s talent and good ear: it’s melodic, straightforward and catchy. From the other side of the stage, Vedder drags us into his world with belief, advising us to fulfill our dreams before it’s too late. There is something intensely positive in this track, whether it’s coming from the music or the lyrics. Anytime I listen to this song, I see the horizon, I see the sun, I see hope showing its face. Don’t you?
There could be another exhaustive list of songs that worth the listening. But instead, I’ll just give my two fave live songs to finish the job.
I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES (Ramones Cover – Live At Benaroya Hall 2003)
The acoustic performance at Benaroya Hall (Seattle, 2003) is merely one of their best live performances ever (after the Unplugged, it’s a no-brainer), for the “Riot Act” era was the time when Eddie Vedder was the more sensitive and mature, vocally speaking. So when the band covers a slow version of this Ramones song, time stands still and we start to bust the replay button of our stereo. Is it be too good to be true? Yes, it’s all real. When the cover outshines the original…
STATE OF LOVE AND TRUST (MTV Unplugged – 1992)
Why, why, oh WHY didn’t “State Of Love & Trust” end up on the final version of “Ten”? Undoubtedly, this song is among the band’s classics, whereas it’s nothing but a “bonus track” within their discography. Once again, the lyrics are dealing with some tragic matter – each one of us has a different explanation about their meaning, but for me, Vedder talks about suicide – and yet a joyful mood emanates from this track, which takes on its whole dimension during the Unplugged performance. Music is uplifting, lyrics are dark, and a crazy whirl drags us into Pearl Jam’s complex universe, converting any skeptical – I know a few – on its way to the highest peaks.
Last modified: 11 February 2015