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Album Talk: Pearl Jam Ten


In the mid-1980s, a new sound was emerging from Seattle and neighbouring cities. The sound which was a mixture of Punk and Metal was coined as Grunge Rock.

Glam Rock was ruling the charts at the time but not every rocker was its fan. The new sub genre of rock music would take over from Glam and command a hard core following. One of the breakout bands to emerge during the initial stage of Grunge was Pearl Jam. Their debut album, Ten, is considered to be a game changer for rock music.
To discuss this epic album, Bandra cowboy and musipedia Narendra Kusnur and I invited the renowned Ad man/playwright Rahul daCunha. While Rahul is famous for the various hats he adorns, he is also a huge music aficionado and this album happens to be one of his favourites.

Note: Language maybe altered to suit the platform’s requirements.

Rahul: Have you guys seen this outstanding movie called Pearl Jam 20 which looks at almost the entire history of Pearl Jam? What is interesting is that to analyse any of Pearl Jam’s work, one has to look at the work of the other bands and artists from that time. Most of them worked together in some band at a point of time. The rest of the band had already scored the music for this album, Eddie just had to write the lyrics. I heard Ten, Alice in Chains’ Dirt and Soundgarden’s Bad Motor Finger at the same time and was hammered by these 3 bands at the same time and that rarely happens. I don’t really like Nirvana.

(chuckles all around)

Kusnur: Neither of us are huge fans too. Hardik is probably relived that we are the not the only ones.

Me: What stands out for you from this album?

Rahul: Every band has a definitive album. Like for Guns N’ Roses it is Use Your Illusion. The fascinating thing about Ten is that it contains 4 of Pearl Jam’s biggest hits.

Me: Massive hits!

Rahul: Black, Jeremy, Alive and Even Flow. Black is more of a critic’s choice. But a lot people’s pick from this album won’t be from these 4 songs. For some it is ‘Garden’ or ‘Porch’.

Kusnur: For me it is Porch.

Metal, Rhythm and Lyrics

Rahul: See the entire grunge movement was heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin and their music. This album is an amalgamation of grunge, hard rock, classic rock and the orchestration which makes it an anthem.

Me: The album has very good rhythm too.

Rahul: Yes. For someone like me who likes or dislikes an album in the first listening, I was blown by this album. Along with great music, this album also gave me depression, alienation, loneliness, abuse and things that I was going through at that time. They appealed to a wide audience as they weren’t talking about sex, drugs and rock n roll.

Me: It was just dark human emotions.

Rahul: Absolutely. Many think Alive is about feeling alive and all but it isn’t. The song is about a boy finding out that the person he thinks is his father isn’t his real father who died long back. Most of Pearl Jam’s song are a contrast of music and lyrics. Take Jeremy for instance, it is about a boy who shot himself in front of his classmates.

Me: It is not happy music.

Rahul: All the songs are so lyrical. The name Even Flow is completely opposite to what the song is about.

Me: It’s about abuse. I love Mike McCready’s solo in this song.

What irked Mike McCready?

Rahul: Unlike the 70s when the guitarists would have a solo part in every song, the grunge movement restricted this to very few songs.

Me: Is that why this solo stands out?

Rahul: And stands out beautifully. McCready is one of the most underrated guitarists in human history.

Me: Even Flow is about 4.30 minutes long on the recordings but when they perform it live it goes beyond 7-8 minutes to accommodate McCready’s solo. Legend has it that he refused to stop his solo when they performed this song live for the first time. After that gig they had a pact to allow a solo performance on Even Flow.

Rahul: Maybe he was pissed that they didn’t include the song Yellow Ledbetter in the album. McCready couldn’t believe that this song was excluded from the album. It is one of the best Pearl Jam songs but it’s referred to as an “outtake”.

The Big 4

Me: People talk about these 4 massive songs but there are other songs which are equally brilliant. Songs like Deep and Release are great songs by themselves.

Rahul: The average listener says I love U2 and know just 3 songs from the ‘Joshua Tree’ album. Same with Pearl Jam. Deep is not the kind of song which will appeal to the average listener.

Kusnur: The first Pearl Jam song I heard was Alive. I remember Gary Lawyer introduced me to it.

Rahul: Many fans tend to dislike the most popular songs in a snobbish way. But they are great songs. Maybe people have over heard them but they are still great songs.

Me: Did McCready get overshadowed by Eddie?

Rahul: Eddie’s presence is so immense that he would hog the limelight. Everything in Pearl Jam was about him. Also he was a mad performer. Stone Gossard and McCready would be scared during live shows as Eddie would climb the stage and what not. Many of the vocalists of that generation were influenced by Eddie. Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind shut down the entire glam rock movement.

Me: Maybe people were fed up of sugar coated lyrics. Garden, on this album, is a haunting song both musically and lyrically.

Rahul: Eddie is at his most haunting on Release. I am surprised that this song hasn’t got the recognition it deserves.

Kusnur: It is such a good composition. The way it starts, the structure and of course Eddie’s wails.

Your Pearl Jam Pick?

Rahul: Fans talk about the big 4 i.e Black, Jeremy, Alive and Even Flow. Next up are Ocean, Porch and Garden. But there is Release too which is such a soulful song. Maybe this happens when there are too many good songs in a single album.

Kusnur: I heard Nirvana before Pearl Jam. Eddie and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had collaborated on a song which rose my interest in Pearl Jam. Alive and Even Flow just stuck with me.

Me: Ok gents. Your picks from Ten.

Rahul: Alive but Black and Release are beautiful.

Kusnur: ‘Even Flow’ and ‘Porch’.

Me: ‘Even Flow’ and ‘Release’.


Until next week, Adios Amigos!!!

pearl jam

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