Thirty years of Pearl Jam. I thought it would be fun to look at their first album, Ten, and their most recent studio release, Gigaton. These two albums couldn’t be more different.
Initially, the brooding, aggressive sound of this band did not register with me. However, I love many brooding, aggressive bands, the case here was more in their songwriting. I did not grow to love them, I moved on to indie rock and more of the jangly, pop-rock, like what you got from The Byrds, The Hollies, Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Lovin’ Spoonful.
Ten was a pure guitar album. Lots and lots of guitars. The release of the album some years later featured a remix of the album, I believe the idea was to fix some of the overdone production gloss. I’m not enough of a seasoned listener to tell a lot of difference. There probably is.
In the early years, Pearl Jam liked one-word song titles. On Ten, 10 of 11 songs are just one-word titles.
Ten has a lot of power and fury, the guitars are like tentacles of an angry octopus. Even the slow songs have a coiled anger, like a cobra waiting to pounce.
Singer Eddie Vedder growls and howls. That’s part of why I thought he sounds similar to Jim Morrison in vocal swagger. His frenetic nature reminds me of the manic style of Joe Cocker, a singer that becomes the song. At times, he shouts lyrics like a machine gun, like “Porch.”
There are no bad songs on this album, really. “Oceans” is quiet and lovely. “Garden” is Led Zeppelinesque, dark and bluesy.
Just short of 30 years after the release of Ten, Pearl Jam came out with Gigaton. Four of the five original members were still around. The band has since added a touring keyboard player.
At first listen, I had to check the disc to make sure it was the same band. There is very little of the first album; however, longtime fans would probably disagree. Most reviews are quite positive, noting their change of direction and bound back from their less-then acclaimed last album, which came out seven years earlier.
Usually, album comments mentioned “Dance of the Clairvoyants” as a change of direction, a New Order or Duran Duran type of groove song. Gigaton is a moody, atmospheric sound more like U2, with trippy keyboard textures.
The first thing I notice was the muddy mix, which reminds me a garage band. The guitars no longer have that original grunge sound, while still muscular, they don’t overtake the sound. There are also keyboards and acoustic guitars. I would describe this sound as mature and use of more subtle colors from the palette.
Also noticeable is Vedder’s voice. While it still has the emotion, it does not have the menace. That’s okay, it still delivers the mail, in this case, concern over the Earth’s future.
What Gigaton lacked in fresh sounding, dark, power-rock, it makes up for in a more adventurous selection of styles and willingness to experiment. I would say this is in the same league as Ten, but 30 years later is still vital and not resting on old success.