Monday, January 2, 2012

Pearl Jam

I found Pearl Jam's Yield at Half Price Books a few weeks ago for next to nothing and finally got around to listening to it this morning.  While I was listening to it, I had an epiphany: Pearl Jam just isn't that amazing.

Yes, I am full well aware that you hate me now, and that's cool, I understand, but at least give me a chance to explain.  I'm not going to take it back because I think it's true, but I think I can explain the massively successful 20 year career they've enjoyed despite the fact that I just don't really think they're that great.  Perhaps they could have been great - I think they have the talent/potential - but they never had to be, so they aren't.  I blame the fans and the circumstances.

Let's start at the beginning with Ten, their debut album released in 1991.  Ten is damn near perfect.  For me, at least, it was a shining star in the muddle of early 90's grunge.  And even now, 21 years later, I can still listen to it all the way through and love every second.  I even got it for Christmas on vinyl!  So here's the thing, I'm not the only person who feels that way.  A huge chunk of my generation was completely smitten with Eddie's growl and the powerful music that backed it up.  We took "Alive" and made it our anthem.  The only thing I dislike about Ten is the fact that I've never seen them perform it live.

Two years later they released Vs. Don't get me wrong, Vs. is a decent record, but it does not compare to Ten.  There are several good songs on it: "Daughter", "Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town", "Dissident" and "Animal" specifically, but none of them are as good as the weakest song on Ten.  So even though I'm not a huge fan of Vs., I can understand why their fans were cool with it and bought the shit out of it (I bought it too). 

That's when things went way downhill as far as I'm concerned.  Between studio albums, live albums, and compilations, they had at least one release every year or two for the next 18 years. Who could possibly be that prolific and all of it be as good as that first record?  I mean, they didn't even give the old records time to breathe before something new was released.  And yet their fans ate up pretty much all of it.  Why?  "Because they're one of the great American rock bands" you'll say.  But I disagree.  I think it was nostalgia.  My generation is big into that.

We latched onto Ten and Vs. because they were great records, because they really made us feel something.  Then there were all those people who joined the fan club and who saw them live and they loved the shit out of this band.  Pearl Jam could do no wrong.  They wanted anything they had to offer, even if the band was phoning it in.  Even if their music became their own personal political forum, no one cared, they just kept buying it.  Even if the band was resting heavily on it's laurels and making music that pretty much all sounded the same, no one minded because it was fucking Pearl Jam.

Over the years, we lost Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain,Layne Staley (we lost him long before he actually passed away) and Shannon Hoon among others.  Soundgarden broke up, Stone Temple Pilots broke up, everyone just kind of faded into the background...but there was always Pearl Jam.  Even after they cut their hair, it was still them, it was still that dirty guitar and that voice and we hung onto them for dear life.

But that doesn't make them great.  That just makes their fans great.  And there's nothing wrong with that, I'm not mad at anyone for loving a band and sticking with them over the years.  That's admirable.  But for me, I didn't buy much new stuff after Vs., it didn't inspire me to keep following them too closely.  There have been moments of genius ("Yellow Ledbetter", "Betterman", "Given to Fly"), but overall, that brilliant artistry we saw on Ten just has not been there.  Which makes me wonder if maybe I only think that Ten is so incredible because it was the perfect storm of my age, my circumstance and that music coming together. When I go back now and listen to the albums that I've missed over the years, I'm just left flat.  But who knows, maybe if I had been into it at the time they were released and following them and going to live shows, I would have been blown away by the new material too.  But, as it stands, I think the Foo Fighters are a better rock band than Pearl Jam. 

So go ahead and tell me I'm stupid and I have no taste, that's fine.  I'm not trying to tell anyone not to be a Pearl Jam fan - that's ridiculous.  If you love every note they've ever played, more power to you.  I don't hate them, I consider myself a fan, but really only of the early stuff.  I sincerely hope that someday they knock my socks off again.

1 comment:

  1. I don't hate you. I never thought Eddie Vedder was all that.