Monday, March 23, 2009

Saw things so much clearer

Pearl Jam. Where to start. I can't actually believe that I have got this far and haven't posted anything about this band. Because pure and simple they are my favourite. They may not always be on my most played list, I might go for a long time without listening to a song. But to me every time I play Pearl Jam it feels like coming home.

Now I could write a Russian novel on Pearl Jam, it's history, meanings, top 100 songs etc. But I won't. What I will talk about is my personal relationship with the music. Now I don't mean that kind of personal, but rather how some songs have shaped my life.

I still remember the first time I even heard Pearl Jam. It was 1995 and I was in third form. Being a bit young to be right in the middle of the grunge explosion, Nirvana had already been and gone, and funnily enough grunge was already in its deaththrows.

It must have been an afternoon after school and on tv was I think the MTV music awards and they kept playing this song, (which turned out to be Jeremy). When I heard that chorus, and you must remember prior to this I was listening to Michael Jackson, I was blown away. I had never heard anything like it. I remember after that seeing commercials on tv advertising Ten, strange as it was a full 3 or so years after it was released. But I couldn't get it out of my head. I had to have this album. I managed to persuade Mum to buy it for me (on cassette of course). I remember getting home and listening to those first atmospheric chords of Once and thinking, 'this sounds like Phil Collins.' Thankfully it wasn't. I turned turned the dial on the stereo up loud and took it all in. I don't think my adolescent brain could digest it all at once. At that moment my poor parents must have thought "oh god he's a teenager now". It is really no coincidence that I feel in love with rock music in my 13th year. The rest was history.

I found that cassette not too long ago at home, the packaging dog eared from me pouring over the liner notes and the artwork, trying to decipher the lyrics. I went out and bought all the other Pearl Jam albums. Vs still remains my favourite. It has an anger and a tightness that was really Pearl Jam at their peak.

It's funny now to look back at those times as Ten is re-released in a beautiful deluxe version. Indeed it has been not only remastered, but the entire album has been remixed by Brendan O'Brien on a separate disc. From the first few run throughs, the redux is, in my opinion, a superior and less dated sound than the original. The original mix has a bit of an 80's rock sound to it, too polished and sheeny for the music it contains. The remix is a lot more immediate and sounds a lot fresher than the original.

While listening to the redux I was thinking how different music can sound at different periods of your life. When I was an angst ridden teenager songs of anger, injustice and despair were a revelation. I would listen to a song like Black, a lament to unrequited or lost love, and think, this guy really knows how I feel. Embarrassing I know.

Now I am a (slightly) more better adjusted adult, I can't listen to the album in quite the same way. You can't relate in the same way to angst ridden songs when you are happily engaged and generally in a really spot in life. But then again Pearl Jam are no longer in that space either. They aren't trying to pass off their former glories by trying to force the angst. They stepped away from 'grunge' and, while it lost them a large amount of fans in the process, they have written some interesting music in the meantime. Indeed, No Code, Yield, Riot Act and Pearl Jam contain some of the most self affirming music written.

Take a song like Loveboat Captain (not the best name, but great song nonetheless) off 2003's Riot Act.
"And the young, they can lose hope cause they cant see beyond today,...
The wisdom that the old cant give away"

This is no longer the voice of the youth, but someone who has been through some hard times and made it out the otherside, and can now see the good in life.

Vedder explained the change quite well in an interview around the time of Yield
"What was rage in the past has become reflection. In the past we got really angry and we cried out against many things in our songs, and I think our message reached to people pretty well this way. But where do you go after that? I think when you become an adult you have to express your energy in a different way, more calm. That doesn't mean we forget the bad side of life, because it still appears in our songs. But what it's now exciting, a real challenge, is facing it from a more positive point of view, looking for a way to solve it. In the past we said: what a shit, this stinks, that sucks, everything sucks... Now it's time to say: stop, let's look for a solution, let's be positive."

I'm not sure if I have necessarily grown with Pearl Jam, or that at a slightly older age I can appreciate the positive in their later records. Whatever the case may be, I love both periods of their music. While I can no, longer relate directly to their older songs, the energy of their early shows is undeniable.

Take the Porch below from 1992 with Pearl Jam in all their grunge glory. This is a truly amazing performance, all the power of youth and exuberance, plus what looks like 100,000 people.

Pearl Jam now do things how they want to and seem to be all the happier for it. Naturally, some of the raw anger and energy has dissipated but it doesn't mean they have forgotten how to rock out.

Who knows, maybe they could be cool and retro again soon. Flannel seems to be making a comeback.... I am already starting to feel old.

(photos courtesy of

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