On Second Thought: Pearl Jam – Ten (1991)

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I’m trying to imagine being 18 and listening to Ten for the first time like I did when I was 18 in 1991. I can’t. I can only imagine listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, which I must have heard as an album for the first time somewhere around that time.

That album, which would also be 18 years old at that time, didn’t feel like an epic to me yet but a bunch of well-worn songs that I was already very familiar with — songs that had been saturated into culture by radio and TV. I imagine that the songs of Ten may feel that way to many younger listeners today. The album, as a whole, may lack the impact it had on us when it struck in August of 1991. Time has embedded many of these songs into our collective soundtrack of the 1990s.

When Pearl Jam appeared on the scene, like the other big names that came to represent grunge, they seemed so drastically different. Listening to the album with fresh ears, it’s a little harder to hear why this was so shocking. Today, the music on Ten sounds like what it is — less showy hard rock. The solos that many decried grunge for doing away with are still there in abundance, they’re just not as technical. Instead, they’re simply emotive. The lyrics are still filled with the kind of thing everyone latches onto — angst, mainly, feeling lost in the world, etc. Classic stuff.

Maybe it just seemed so different to us 18 year olds who had been listening to, and grown tired of, the Warrants of the music world snickering about “Cherry Pie” for the past few years. The stuff of Pearl Jam’s lyrics is the stuff of most of classic rock’s lyrics.

If anything, it was the sound that dated the album to a specific time, something made obvious after the band settled into a style with their next couple of albums which was so strikingly different than that of Ten’s glossy sound. The band was obviously dissatisfied, too, calling in producer Brendan O’Brien to remix several tracks for the rearviewmirror compilation and then a completely retooled Ten Redux, also remixed by O’Brien.

What we got there was a sort of middle-ground that changes the album as we knew it but isn’t really all that different, either. Gone is the de rigueur late-80s/early-90s reverb that drenched the vocals and especially the drums, but obviously still present is the structure of the songs that makes it still feel related to the period — big guitar solos and big, soaring choruses that we never quite heard again in their catalog.

It was Pearl Jam filtered through the hard rock of the time then, and it still is now: There’s no remixing that can change that. And that’s a good thing.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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