Give Pearl Jam a Chance
Eighteen years later, it's easy to lump Pearl Jam into the grunge movement and compare them to bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney. Sure, they came out of Seattle, had a penchant for flannel and long hair and were banging out some dirty rock and roll, but I think they're overlooked as "just another grunge band." I'm guilty of this: Ten, Binaural, and Yield were left to collect dust on my shelf for quite a while.
Recently I've given them a second chance, and I implore you to do the same.
Now let me preface this next statement: I don't mean to belittle Nirvana. I am a huge fan of Kurt and the boys and think their influence on modern alternative rock is invaluable. But Pearl Jam is the real gem that came out of the Seattle grunge scene. Nirvana may have had the real big hit ("Smells Like Teen Spirit") and been the poster boys of the movement, but let's be honest, Kurt Cobain was a little off and some of their songs are pretty banal. Teenage angst is awesome, but there's a point when you have to move on.
Pearl Jam took grunge music in a different direction. Instead of dwelling on the problems of adolesence, lead singer Eddie Vedder commented on social and political issues that mattered to people. "Jeremy" is about the weird kid in school that everyone makes fun of who ended up killing himself in front of class (based on a real event). "Alive" is about a boy finding out that who he thought was his father is not and that his real father is dead. "Better Man" is about an abusive relationship and a woman in denial.
More recently he's gotten more political, touring with the "Vote for Change" tour in 2004 and writing songs like "World Wide Suicide" that are blatantly critical of the George W. Bush administration.
Most importantly, Pearl Jam has staying power. Ten sounds just as fresh when I listen to it now as it did when it was released 17 years ago. Vedder's haunting voice sticks with you and you feel his passion. Sure, it's easy to make fun of his vocal delivery (just watch his face in the "Jeremy" video), but you can't deny the richness of his voice.
Vedder's soundtrack for the movie "Into the Wild" is what got me listening to the band again. He wrote and performed the entire soundtrack, which was the perfect compliment to the coming of age story. I thought the acoustic songs were a deviation from his standard grunge style with Pearl Jam, but after going back and listening I realize that it is part of a natural progression. He has grown up, but he haven't lost their touch.
Maybe they were more mature than Nirvana to begin with: Vedder did write "Better Man" in high school. They understood that there was more to life than teenage angst and sought to draw attention to it. Almost 20 years later they are still trying. And succeeding.
Take a look at their episode "Storytellers." You'll see a thoughtful and intelligent side of Vedder. Then give them another listen. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
But this is just my opinion. You can disagree with me. That's what I love about music.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite songs off of the "Into the Wild" soundtrack: "Hard Sun."
Photo by Danny Clinch: Pearl Jam Official