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Pearl Jam’s Debut Still a Ten

pearljamtenfrontPearl Jam – Ten (Legacy Edition)
March 24, 2009
Epic Records

Victim of Loudness War? Yes

When Pearl Jam first hit the scene with their debut album, Ten, in 1991, the world of rock music was a little bit different. Up until that time, pop-metal bands were still the top of the heap, churning out a style that was more about image than about the music itself. But along came the likes of Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden to send them all scattering with their stripped down image and realistically vivid songs. It was the dawn of a new era and Pearl Jam had arguably the strongest record amongst their peers. They quickly (if somewhat reluctantly) catapulted to the forefront of the grunge movement and became the darlings of both the critics and fans alike.

Now, nearly two decades later, Columbia Records has seen fit to reissue Pearl Jam’s monumental first release to commemorate its staggeringly longevity and current relevance. Ten – The Legacy Edition is a welcome update to an album that never really went away, a masterpiece that has yet to fade from music fans’ hearts and minds. But just how do you get people to purchase an updated version of an album that still sells in the platinum numbers just the way it was? Well, you make it better.

The first disc of Ten – The Legacy Edition could be seen as a disappointment if it was issued on its own. After all, it’s simply the original album in a digitally remastered format. Ten years ago, this would have been welcome, but given the fact that most remasters issued after 2000 seem more interested in raising the volume than improving sonic quality, there’s nothing to get too excited about. Granted, Pearl Jam seem to have somewhat staved off the over-compression most remasters are getting these days. But there really was no reason to remaster an album recorded in the digital age anyway.

That’s where the second disc of the set comes in very handy. Building on an idea which began on the band’s 2004 best-of collection, Rearviewmirror, producer Brendan O’Brien has been given the reigns to remix the original album. It seems almost impossible that Ten could be open to any improvements as far as the mix is concerned, but O’Brien has clearly outdone himself here. Gone are the somewhat glossier tendencies that were common in the early ’90’s, happily replaced with a more direct and straightforward sound. The guitars are mixed more upfront, which gives way to some brilliant fills and flourishes that were buried on the original release.

Take “Porch,” for example. On the original album, the song is a ferocious rocker, something akin to a call-to-arms anthem for the time it was in. In its updated form, the track reveals many more guitar work in its outro section, firmly cementing it as the stomp-your-feet piece of excellence that it is. Even the band’s biggest single to date, the troubled-youth tale “Jeremy,” is improved upon as O’Brien unearths some previously subtle background vocals and brings them to the front to make the chorus section all that much more gripping. It’s hard to imagine that even the biggest skeptic of this remix project could find fault with the updated Ten – it’s simply that good.

Pearl Jam certainly took a gamble releasing a remixed version of their most revered record. Afterall, remasters often prove unnecessary and remixes often prove unwelcome (reference Dave Mustaine’s abhorrent updates to the Megadeth catalog for a glowing example of the former and the latter). But the gamble certainly paid off, leaving Ten in the essential realm it has always resided in since it was released all those years ago. Ten is its generation’s Blonde on Blonde or Dark Side of the Moon and is now thankfully remembered as such.

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March 17, 2009 Posted by | classic rock, Grunge, Guitars, Pearl Jam | Leave a comment