Pearl Jam's 'Ten' hits new heights with 2-CD reissue of debut album


POSTED: Tuesday, March 24, 2009

When I was asked whether I wanted to review the Pearl Jam reissue of the seminal “;Ten,”; I jumped at the chance. I've been a follower of the band since their debut in '91 with this album. It was big then and it's bigger now.

Pearl Jam (re-release, deluxe edition with two CDs and 1 DVD, Sony Legacy, $40.98)

I'd been following the news — producer Brendan O'Brien at the helm to remaster and remix what many call one of the defining records of the grunge era. Sure, some might say that Pearl Jam was over the top, a sellout band out to make a buck. But few can argue that what they created from the ashes of Mother Love Bone (and perhaps even Green River) was some of the most important music to come from the Seattle scene at the time.

It was music that was new but old at the same time. Lead guitarist Mike McCready has always been known as a disciple of Stevie Ray Vaughan (and by extension Hendrix), and the now-legendary solo of “;Alive”; is still one of the benchmarks of blues-influenced grunge leads to this day. Seen live, he's known to intertwine Hendrix's “;Little Wing”; into the solo of “;Evenflow,”; with band joining in to make one of the more epic medleys of their sets.

With the release of this album, I was curious about what O'Brien's work would reveal so many years later. All of us, wiser for the time, hope for nuggets of philosophy in the Pearl Jam manuscript.

Overall, the mix is much cleaner. Listening to the two CDs song by song, back to back, reveals differences in the mix between the guitars, some subtle, others quite noticeable.

The result is huge. And in this case it's a matter of less being definitely more.

In the “;original”; recording of “;Alive”; included in the press package, the McCready guitar solo is a different take from the recording I have on my original CD. While similar, there are parts that aren't particularly inspired. The remix offers the take that most would be familiar with, and it really stands out.

Vedder's vocals also stand out much more. In “;Evenflow”; the voice overdubs in the verses are reduced to almost nothing, producing a noticeably airier effect. Overall, the vocals are much cleaner. There's a presence in the remix that reveals much more than what could be heard on the original. It's almost as if a fog has been lifted from the recordings.

Perhaps even more telling than the changes to the mix are the inclusion of early demos of several songs, a few of which went on to become hits for the band — “;State of Love and Trust”; and “;Breath,”; released on the soundtrack for the movie “;Singles.”;

To the casual listener, these are exactly what they are — somewhat mediocre demos of songs. But to the Pearl Jam fan, these are interesting fossils of the skeletons of what the songs were to become. A not-oft-heard evolution of songwriting. The tempos are slow. The riffs are spare and wont of early '90s Seattle heaviness. But they also harken back to the band's roots. Reminiscent of Vintage Mother Love Bone, there's a moodiness. Vedder's vocals are raw and spare.

But it doesn't matter. This is what they were and we know what they became. And perhaps that's the most important aspect of this release.

The band has always been lyrical and thoughtful, making music for themselves that has garnered fans of many genres, leading to their huge popularity.

Normally I'm not a fan for remixes. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But while “;Ten”; was never broken, this new remix is a huge improvement. It takes this recording to new heights.

Buy it. Now. And play it louder than 10.