Pearl Jam - Ten: Deluxe Legacy Edition

Pearl Jam

[Deluxe Legacy Edition]


First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2009, Volume 16, #5

Written by John Metzger

Thu May 7, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT


Most outfits find a formula and stick with it, opting to play it safe rather than take the sorts of risks that might jeopardize their futures. Pearl Jam, on the other hand, has spent the past 18 years trying to achieve its artistic aspirations by straddling the line between meeting and escaping from the commercial expectations that were thrust upon it after the mammoth success of its debut Ten. Not wanting, perhaps, to be pigeonholed by Kurt Cobainís criticisms, the group not only has stretched its music by pursuing its experimental side, but it also has dabbled in its share of political rabble-rousing, challenging everyone from TicketMaster to the President. Many fans would say that there were times when Pearl Jam lost its way and that, as a result, its canon is somewhat uneven. Still, it remains a matter of debate over where the ensemble has faltered and where it has flourished.

Surprisingly, Ten has suffered only slightly from the passage of time. Although there is some truth to the notion that Adam Sandlerís mock performances on Saturday Night Live as well as the myriad of outfits that flooded the market by mimicking Pearl Jamís style have had a detrimental impact upon the endeavor, it is equally difficult to dampen the impassioned shockwaves of adrenaline that still reverberate through songs like Alive, Why Go, and Jeremy, 18 years after Ten was released. While the album may have provided a blueprint for Creed, Live, and countless other acts to follow, it also remains a veritable guidebook for how to get it right. In the end, everything boils down to the voluminous amount of emotion that Pearl Jam exhibited on the effort, which has been far more than its manufactured offspring have been able to muster while crafting their lifeless, robotic works.

There is no doubt that Ten is a flawed endeavor. Nevertheless, it suitably fulfills the same duties as most debuts. Pearl Jam clearly wanted to showcase the breadth of its abilities without giving away all of the tricks in its book. Likewise, Ten bears as many hints of the bandís awkward uncertainty as it does of its confident brazenness, which explains why its opening salvo is markedly more memorable than its latter half. Naturally, the set also is plagued by the same issue that faces most young bands: Pearl Jamís identity was not yet established, at least not fully, and consequently, the ensemble defined itself through the groups it sought to emulate. A smattering of Pink Floyd, for example, lined cuts like Garden, while Led Zeppelin-isms were in abundance throughout the affair, rumbling through the shadowy interior of Black as well as the aqueously ambient blues-rock of Oceans.

Pearl Jam will forego the major-label system when it releases its next studio album, and this very well may have been a factor in the bandís decision to issue an expanded version of Ten now rather than wait for a proper anniversary. This most certainly is a surefire way to garner attention in advance of the new endeavor, and, thankfully, the group didnít hedge its bets and hold anything back for a future, super-deluxe rendition of the set.

First and foremost, Pearl Jam long had wanted to revisit the way the collection was presented. With the help of cohort Brendan OíBrien, it has created a new mix that, through a series of subtle, knob-twisting techniques, has accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of making the outing sound even more vital than it initially did. The results are crisper and cleaner, making it easier to hear how well the tightly coiled instrumentation supported front man Eddie Vedderís angered and anguished pleas. Not wanting to alienate its fans, the group also included the complete, original rendition of the album in the refurbished collection, and for the record, there is something to be said for its murkier production, especially on a song like Oceans.

All six of the bonus tracks featured on the latest edition of Ten feel like incomplete works-in-progress. Yet, they also offer glimpses of several sides of the band that were obscured within the outing itself. Evil Little Goat is an overt nod to The Doors, and its presence informs the Oedipal issues that lurk within Alive. Elsewhere, State of Love and Trust provides a few clues that point to the punk-driven sound Vedder wanted to pursue ó and later did. Regardless, these cuts ó all of which were previously unreleased ó largely are of interest only to the groupís most fanatical followers.

The most important addition to Ten, then, is Pearl Jamís 1992 performance on MTVís Unplugged. Strangely, for all of the knocks that the group has taken for its success, Pearl Jamís appearance on the program was considerably less rehearsed than Nirvanaís. Sometimes Pearl Jamís lack of polish deflated the potency of its material. At other moments, the bandís rough and raw approach combined with its acoustic-oriented restraint to elevate the tension within its songs. Porch was transformed into a furiously thrashing political statement, while the nervous agitation of Jeremy peered at The Whoís Tommy from inside its heart of darkness. Although the band already seemed to be somewhat weary of performing Alive, there was no denying the fact that Vedderís vocal inflections and facial contortions helped to bring his characters to life.

Although it never again managed to sculpt an endeavor that, from start to finish, was quite as commercial as Ten, Pearl Jam repeatedly has put its early experiences to good use by writing better songs and making better albums. Every band wants to be successful, of course. Yet, the pressure that was placed upon Pearl Jam after its credibility was challenged by the reigning king of the grunge movement ought to have tugged the outfit so far in the opposite direction that it literally flew apart. Pearl Jam undoubtedly has had its share of rough patches, but somehow it also has always found a way to come through the fray even stronger than it was before. As it turns out, Ten laid a solid foundation for the group, while Cobain provided the key that allowed Pearl Jam to escape from the shackles that threatened to bind it to a formula. starstarstarstar


Of Further Interest...

Chris Cornell - Carry On

Nirvana - Unplugged in New York (DVD)

Pearl Jam - Riot Act


Ten: Deluxe Legacy Edition is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

Ten: Legacy Edition is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

Ten: Collector's Edition is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!



1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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