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Pearl Jam: Do the Evolution

By Nisha Rao | March 3, 2007

Split Magazine: Pearl Jam

Photographs by Danny Clinch and Kerensa Wight / PearlJam.com

Born in a generation where being politically incorrect seemed the most correct thing to do, their albums spoke about love, hate, war, peace, denial, disillusionment, and hope. A dissident voice to a generation tired of lyrically challenged star-spangled rock star derivatives, Pearl Jam emerged with an almost timed precision seething with raw talent, unraveling before our eyes. Their music defines a generation of believers in refined radicalism mixed with mass appeal.

Pearl Jam: DiscographyA Good Start

It all started off with a band called Mother Love Bone, with the usual suspects — Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Mike McCready, along with Matt Cameron (who played with Soundgarden back then) and Andrew Woods, who soon enough outed himself, thanks to a heroin overdose. It was drummer Jack Irons who got one San Diego surfer named Eddie Vedder on board after listening to a Mother Love Bone demo. Drummer Dave Krusen was hired soon thereafter. It was shortly before the commercial release of ‘Ten’ that a major slice of the band participated in an Andrew Wood tribute called Temple of the Dog. Dave left soon after the release of ‘Ten’ and he was replaced by Dave Abbruzzese, who was fired and replaced by Jack Irons before the release of ‘Vitalogy’. In 1998, Matt Cameron was re-called into the band due to Irons’ poor health. The band did seem quite volatile, but the creative nexus behind their music seemed to remain intact.

Their debut album ‘Ten’ was a pioneering album, bellowing out this heavy, murky, metal-infused sound. Tracks like “Once”, “Evenflow” and “Deep” were turgid with angst. Vedder’s raw vocals were underlined by a lucid interplay between guitarist Stone Gossard, lead guitarist Mike McCready and bassist Jeff Ament. Their music was made up of riveting riffs, unrelenting hooks and lyrics that were more like conversations about truth, love and life added to an unpretentious biography of personal experiences (“Alive”). What loomed ahead was the mainstrem acceptance of Pearl Jam which seemed almost inevitable.

Surprisingly, ‘Ten’ was off to a slow start. It was only after Nirvana exploded onto the mainstream did ‘Ten”s album sales actually take off. It was the twilight zone, where alternative was mainstream and the biggest conundrum faced by the band was being labelled rock stars.

Fame’s a Bitch

For a band that strived to be like The Who, they were often labelled the Aerosmiths of the nineties. Kurt Cobain felt that the band was “pioneering a corporate, alternative cockÔÇôrock fusion’. Later on his suicide snarled back at the band as a sheer testimony to the pressures of being popular.

Caught between being slotted into a genre and a bevy of fans raving for more of the same sound, their second album ‘Vs’ came along. This album was highly regarded by critics and fans alike, and echoed the bands concious elusion from the trappings of success by deciding not to make music videos. Their multi-platinum success set forth this concious attempt by the band to not be sucked into a narcissistic wormhole. “Fame’s a bitch and you gotta keep it real” seemed to be their thought for the moment, and what mattered was just good honest music for their fans — none of those packed stadiums selling overpriced tickets or cheesy videos. The band was also accused of tearing apart their own fame. They also launched a doomed legal battle against Ticketmaster for selling overpriced tickets.

It’s not like it was honky-dory for the band either. Their own dynamic was a little implosive with a lot of tension between McCready and Vedder, but they managed to keep it together. The release of ‘Vitalogy’, which succeeded in maintaning the continuum of making music that was truly their own, was followed by a gradual reticence of Pearl Jam from the mainstream with albums like ‘No Code’ and ‘Yield’. They were prolific and well-acclaimed, but the band constantly waned from the spotlight and focused on their live acts, reaching directly to their loyal fans with an almost Springsteen-esque following. Vedder was once quoted as saying that “with more popularity, we were going to be crushed, our heads were going to pop like grapes”. This lead to a conscious attempt by the band to snip off any potential pop-rock numbers from any forthcoming albums, as was evident by their resurgence in ‘Lost Dogs’, a collection of B-sides that came much later.

‘Binaural’ saw the band in an experimental frame of mind, and between their live tours of Europe and America, they realeased ‘Riot Act’ that was a forceful take on the shit happening in the world around them. This album expelled the boundaries on what the band was capable of doing. But ultimately the band did have their own sound. It’s a sound that is thick, versatile and strong, a potent cross between the Ramones and the Who — a sound largely derived from the band’s penchant for Fender Stratocasters with lots of signature effects, coupled with McCreadys creative genius (the man can croon the devil with his guitar) and Eddie’s rustic vocals.

Do the Evolution

Even though they were spiralling into what seemed to a commercial haven reserved for musical legends, the band constantly tried to evolve and be true to their roots. They were not just another band that were frozen in time. They constantly kept true to themselves and their music evolved as its members did. Their live acts grew into these storytelling sessions with tales of personal tragedy and war interleaved with their setlist. Their new found energy was driven by anti-war sentiments, backed by a nation’s protests against a war-mongering president. With the release of their latest album ‘Pearl Jam’, the band scored a punk-infused, politically charged album with immense mileage for Bush antagonisms. The release also saw the band performing live on television shows after quite a while, and making other television appearances. They clearly wanted to be heard this time.

Okay, so Pearl Jam’s just a bunch of guys who fight with each other, have the occasional legal battle with power-hungry corporate sponsors and snarl at the spotlight, but ultimately end up making some of the best music that our generation has heard. They are definitely not a group of angst-driven revellers whose success is attributed to a series of acid trips and alchohol. It’s just all about the music and a vindication, that somebody actually cares that war is futile, politicians are a bunch of greedy fools and that we’re all going down if something’s not done about it.

Comments

7 Comments. Post Yours Here.
  1. March 3, 2007, 10:23 pm Rohan

    coolio!!

  2. March 4, 2007, 7:03 pm Vishal Gandhi

    Binaural is the best fucking Pearl Jam album.
    Piece of trvia…Eddie Vedder publishes under the pseudonym of Wes C. Adle.

  3. March 7, 2007, 2:22 pm baptiste

    brilliant synopsis of a brilliant band.

    but – i’ve read lots about them over the years and i have never heard of eddie having a problem with mcready. everybody loves mike. i have read that dave a really got on his tits tho (hence, no more dave a).

  4. March 8, 2007, 2:38 pm Anuj Gupta

    Greatest band of our time. There’s not a day when I don’t hear their music!

    NP: In My Tree

  5. March 22, 2007, 11:55 am Jassim Ali

    The mouthpiece of a generation rendered hollow by the consumerist culture of the 90′s

  6. April 26, 2007, 7:35 pm george

    I live with Pearl Jam on my computer, in my car and in my head. All of the songs are not great, but most are. The ones that are great have changed my life. I would like to shoot a game of pool with Eddy and then hit some waves. I have been a lawyer for 20 years and Pearl Jam is the only law that makes sense to me. Lister carefully for the magic. Life Wasted, I’m never going back again

  7. June 29, 2007, 2:23 am Anirudh

    The piece says some apt things but runs through many parts of Pearl Jam’s career too fast, giving the reader disconnected bits of information, as if to fill in people who know nothing about the band (a little like the short notes we had to write in our History exams). Probably because it tries to give an overview of their entire career, something which isn’t possible even in a medium-length essay like this. Wish it was a little longer and more detailed.

    (Btw, the first para made me want to say “absolutely”. Also, it is nice to see someone else who likes McCready.)

    Cheers.

    If you’re interested in writing/reading essay-length pieces on musicians, you might want to read Jaideep Varma’s pieces on songwriters. (http://jebbitsongwriters.blogspot.com)

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