With the news that Pearl Jam is (sadly) returning from a pleasant, but clearly not long enough, hiatus – there’s a new album and an American tour – I thought I’d look at the band’s debut album and why I can’t listen to it. Possibly a stretch even considering this a classic, but the flannelette and shorts brigade are a funny bunch with funny ideas so let’s humour them and bestow that title on Pearl Jam’s first album. In fact there is only one Pearl Jam album worth listening to and that’s their second record (Vs.) and the reason to listen to that is because a guy named Dave Abbruzzese was playing the drums. The only full album he recorded with Pearl Jam – the best (most musical, creative and interesting) drummer of the grunge movement. Period.
You’re allowed to listen to that album once a year or so because even the blatantly appalling songs have a nice rhythmic shape to them thanks to Dave. They have colour. Some of them even sparkle.
As for Ten? Well I can’t give you one reason why I cannot listen to it.
So, instead, I’ll give you ten:
1. The cover. Look at it. We know that Pearl Jam is a euphemism for jism, so there you have the band locked in a communal high-five. They’ve just had a giant circle-jerk and they’re stuck together. With their own, er, pearl jam. What an awkward end to their first band-practice. The background to this is the colour of a migraine. It’s a clue to move away from the stereo. Or to at least keep this record away.
2. After that horrible weave-of-scurrying-bees riff that opens the album (Once) we have the big single Even Flow. It’s an impossibly slow stop-start lurch of a riff. It’s revolting. “Thoughts arrive like butterflies”. The first clue that Eddie Vedder is a terrible lyricist. “Ha-even flowwww…” The first clue he needs a good shit.
3. Alive. A good guitar solo hiding inside another strange plodder of a song. Played this song in a band once, so it’s no longer alive or living for me; it is in fact dead to me.
4. Why Go. That’s actually just a reason on its own – what a god-awful song. It just screams Rockquest. Actually, you know this song sounds a bit like Pearl Jam’s answer to U2’s Bullet The Blue Sky. And that’s about as cruel as I can be. I’m almost sorry for saying that.
5. As if thoughts arriving like butterflies wasn’t bad enough – we have to put up with “my bitter hands chafe beneath the clouds of what was everything” and “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life/I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky/But why, why, why can’t it be, can’t it be mine?” (Black). What a whiny, pathetic little bitch. Eddie Vedder must answer to many crimes against humanity – chiefly giving stoned-surfers of the 1990s a voice. But really! C’mon, you’re going to tell me that “you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky” is a beautiful lyric. You probably listen to Ben Harper – without a gun to your head.
6. There was a kid in my school called Jeremy and when he piped up in maths class one day, sloth-like creature that he was, a chorus of brats giggled and chanted out “Jeh-remy spoke in ca-lass ta-dayyyyy”. Pretty funny joke at the time. Of its time. But then – much later – my boss from my old job tells me – apropos of nothing – that he lost his virginity to the song Jeremy. I decide to email a bunch of people and say that he lost his virginity to a boy named Jeremy. (“Seemed a harmless little fuck”). Actually, I shouldn’t hate this song at all – it’s been the set-up for some pretty awesome jokes. But I do hate it. It’s fucking horrible. It’s Pearl Jam’s answer to Aerosmith’s Janie’s Got A Gun. And that’s about as cruel as I can be. I’m almost sorry for saying that.
7. Oceans: those fucking surfers. Ew. Side-note, but have you ever seen a picture of an angora goat? I’ll never look at surfers the same way again.
8. Eddie and the boys just seem so stupid when they try to get a little bit punk, a little bit wound up, a little bit too angsty. Their music, when it attempts to sound hard and heavy, always sounds like it’s scurrying, like a particularly bad roller-skater about to fall (cf: Porch).
9, Those slow elegiac guitar intros (Release) sound so onanistic.
10. Eddie Vedder should have been honest, when asked about his biggest influences he crushed on The Who and crowed about Green River and Mother Love Bone and all the grunge antecedents but what he needed to say, and what you can hear – painfully – across the album Ten and his whole career after is that his two biggest influences are laryngitis and constipation.
Oh, hey, I fucking loved this album when I was young and stupid. I only have the one excuse now. I left this album at high school – where it firmly belongs. With the rudimentary playing and antecedent-for-emo lyrics I should imagine it now be part of the curriculum. And provided you move on after that’s fine.
Eddie Vedder just has such a smarm and smugness to his look and sound and feel. We watched that West of Memphis documentary recently; the new one that Peter Jackson has financed. Vedder’s in there, the Bono of grunge. And he’s all this and that about atrocities and injustices and then up with an acoustic guitar to offer his own injustice and atrocity, barely covering Bob Dylan and doing to the song what should only put you in jail. And given the film’s subject matter, about the unfair jailing of three young men accused of a crime they likely did not commit, it was my wife who was out with the line quick-smart, as soon as Vedder strangled a lyric and mutilated a line. “They should fuckin’ lock him up instead”, she said.
You know I’ve never been so proud in all my married life. Never. I wiped away a tear. So proud. So very proud.