Not Just Classic Rock, But Definitely a Rock Classic
Few bands have been hailed like Pearl Jam then almost defiantly turned their back on the praise. Their debut Ten brought them from the ashes of Mother Love Bone to rock saviors and, in tandem with Nirvana’s Nevermind put to rest the excesses of ’80s hair metal. Not that it was their mission, but along with their Seattle compatriots, Pearl Jam brought punk energy and self-doubt to the blues-rock template and it seemed like something new. Nearly two decades after, it still sounds invigorating.
For many, the focal points of Ten are the singles; the transgressive “Alive,” the homelessness-as-transcendence “Even Flow,” and “Jeremy,” about a kid who’d simply been pushed too far. After all these years, age has done little to wither these songs for those who were around in the ’90s. The real success, as with any great album, lies in its album tracks. “Once,” begins with an attractive murkiness before Mike McCready and Stone Gossard fire guitar salvos and leave Eddie Vedder to growl about self-control and being a ticking time bomb. The shoulda-been-a-single “Black” contains dramatic vocalizations by Vedder that would only be reached minimally later in the band’s career. Then there’s “Release,” the quietly epic closer that sees Vedder at his most self-examining on the album.
With Ten still being the masterpiece it always was, gathering bells and whistles for a deluxe reissue always needs to be questioned. With the biggest of the packages containing CD’s, a DVD, vinyl LP’s, a plethora of release memorabilia and even a cassette tape, only the most rabid of fans of the band should shell out the money for it—not because there’s no value for fans of the album, but because that value doesn’t translate.
The second CD, Ten Redux, is the original album given the Brendan O’Brien production treatment. While in his hands, most of the album’s charms—the guitar work of Gossard and McCready and Eddie Vedder’s vocal performance throughout—are pushed blatantly to the forefront so the sinister appeal that opens, closes and occupies the space between tracks is gone. While that can be forgiven, the absence of “Yellow Ledbetter,” “Wash,” “Footsteps,” and “Dirty Frank” as b-sides appending it cannot. At the time of the original release, rock radio wasn’t exactly prone to giving bands a good examination. Pearl Jam was a clear exception, with most of Ten as well as b-sides to its singles gaining airplay and even becoming regional hits throughout the U.S. Even the band’s own video re-take on “Even Flow” is neglected. Instead, we get rehashes of “Breath” (listed here as “Breath and Scream”) and “State of Love and Trust” and outtakes from the time.
Within the DVD is easily one of the better, if not the best, MTV Unplugged performances of the era. The band are in amicably youthful form and really click well in front of the crowd. They also plow through much of Ten—”Oceans,” “Even Flow,” “Alive,” “Porch,” “Black” and “Jeremy”—which translates surprisingly well to the acoustic format of the show. Vedder also shows his politics by taking off a flannel shirt and revealing “Pro Choice” written on his arms in black permanent marker.
For those who spend the big money for the huge limited-edition package, there’s not only a replica of Vedder’s composition book from the tour, but several 8×10 photographs and a replica of the Momma-Son cassette that contained the original demos of “Alive,” “Once” and “Footsteps” with Vedder’s vocals on them. This is an interesting trip back to the cradle of Pearl Jam’s existence because both Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard have said, at various times, that this cassette was what made them fall in love with the music all over again. Without it, the world might have been Pearl Jam-less.
Lastly, included solely in the limited edition is the 1992 concert called A Drop in the Park. For the most part, this is a passable affair that hardcore fans will appreciate because much was made of it in the bootleg arena. However, it’s just another way to hear most of the songs from Ten, which if a listener takes the time to listen to and watch everything in one sitting, will become as repetitive as it is exhausting—and that’s the problem that plagues this reissue the most.