Pearl Jam is another American band that has known tremendous popular success. It apparently has sold more than any other band of the ’90s. I was blissfully unaware of the group because it rose to prominence during a period when I wasn’t really paying much attention to new music. After being prodded by Dr. Science to start to listen to “new music,” however, I soon heard Pearl Jam. I think the first song I heard was Daughter. I was immediately struck not only by the fine music but also by the interesting perspective of the lyrics, which seems to shift between third person and first person storytelling as the music shifts between acoustic and electric. I went out and bought the Ten CD and was stunned by the consistent high quality of the songs, with Evenflow and Alive and Jeremy and ending with the hymn-like Release. Keith Richards once supposedly said that an album was “a single and 12 tracks of shit.” Ten was directly contrary to that theory of music-making. It has to be one of the best rock ‘n’ roll albums ever recorded.
When you talk about Pearl Jam I think you have to start with Eddie Vedder’s vocals, because they are so good. Vedder has an evocative, emotional voice and does a terrific job of assuming the different personas of the subjects of Pearl Jam songs, whether it be the poor, forgotten woman in Elderly Woman Behind the Counter or the reflective first person in Black. As good as Vedder’s vocals are, however, I don’t think they should overshadow the skills and capabilities of the rest of the group. Pearl Jam, after all, played on Neil Young’s Mirror Ball, which is one of his best albums of the past 30 years. You also have to give the band credit for taking a stand against Ticketmaster. Rock ‘n’ roll bands have a long tradition of pursuing anti-greed crusades — if I recall correctly, the Beatles’ formation of Apple records was motivated by that same impulse — and I commend a successful group that doesn’t just try to maximize their own bottom line. Tilting at windmills is an important part of rock ‘n’ roll.
I obviously am a big fan of Ten, but I think a lot of the Pearl Jam recordings are Ipod-worthy. The selections include Wishlist, No Way, Come Back, Daughter, Release, Jeremy, Black, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter, Alive, and Indifference.
Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!