The Record Review

The Place For Honest Record Reviews

Looking In New: The Return of a Giant

aicnewAlice In Chains – Black Gives Way to Blue
September 29, 2009
EMI/Virgin Records

Victim of Loudness War? Yes

Usually when a well-established band attempts to replace a key member of its lineup, the results are less than thrilling. Only a handful of bands have successfully accomplished this move, mostly because they went with their artistic gut rather than their commercial desires and continued to produce music that was original and memorable (the names Van Halen, AC/DC and Wilco come immediately to mind as prime examples). Most bands that attempt to replace popular members, however, make the gigantic mistake of trying to find a substitute that is a dead ringer for the member being replaced (Journey, Judas Priest and the biggest disaster in this category, Blind Melon). This usually brings on the one-two punch of both turning off all but the most diehard fans and leaving their music sounding stale. After all, the new member wasn’t hired for their originality, but simply because they could mimic the guy with the originality. Continue reading

October 2, 2009 Posted by | classic rock, Grunge, Guitar, Guitars, Rock, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Click below to purchase Ten – Legacy Edition
2CD version: Click here
2CD/1 DVD version: Click here
2CD/1 DVD/4 vinyl/1 cassette version: Click here
2 vinyl version: Click here

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

Pearl Jam: Better With Age

pjpjfrontPearl Jam – Pearl Jam
May 2, 2006
J Records
Victim of Loudness War? Yes

Few artists have as consistently reinvented themselves as Pearl Jam has. Over the span of their sixteen year career, the band has kept both its fans and the general public on their toes, always changing up their sound in subtle yet brilliant ways with each successive album. While other acts that surfaced in their wake have come and gone with little to no fanfare, Pearl Jam are still at it and are still a tremendous success. Their latest effort, the simply titled Pearl Jam, is another step forward for the band and proves that they are one of rock music’s most valuable acts to date.

Pearl Jam is the band’s first effort since severing their ties with longtime label Epic Records and their newfound indie freedom shows that it was the corporate suits that made the mistake. Opening with the anthemic “Life Wasted” (which is also reprised later on), it’s clear that the band has finally found itself in the most complete sense. The track marks the first of many times on the album that Pearl Jam takes sounds and textures from its previous recordings and blends them into one monstrous style. Case in point is the album’s first single, “Worldwide Suicide,” which takes the raw edge found on their critically-acclaimed 1994 effort Vitalogy and blends it with the later expertise found on their last effort, 2002’s Riot Act. But make no mistake – Pearl Jam is not trying to draw off its past to make a hit record; instead, they have simply found a way to make all the best elements of their past experimentations gel together.
In addition to blending all of their previous high points cohesively, Pearl Jam also manage to break some more new ground. “Severed Hand” is a prime example of this, with it’s sweeping, effect-laden intro and vocal effects previously foreign to the band. The track is definitely the first of many new steps the band takes on this album, yet they never alienate or seem out of place to the listener. Pearl Jam is comprised of professionals, rock veterans who finally know how to mix new ideas into their already unique and familiar sound.
Pearl Jam, for those who might have been worried, also contains its fair share of the band’s trademark slow numbers. “Parachutes” is perhaps the most shining example of the less in-your-face material, boasting a beautiful melody and crisp acoustic guitar foundation. The brilliantly sublime “Come Back” is also a stand-out and a definite candidate for the album’s second single. The slower tunes have always been where Pearl Jam shines through best and “Parachutes” and “Come Back” are welcome additions to their ballad-esque repertoire, which includes such past favorites as “Black,” “Immortality” and “Off He Goes.”
The bottom line is that if you’re a fan of Pearl Jam, you will love this album. If you’re not a fan of Pearl Jam, you’ll love this album. It is one of the best releases thus far this year and is a sure way to transform even the most stubborn naysayer into a fan, even fifteen years after their debut release. Pearl Jam is simply that good.
– Ian Rice

To purchase a copy of Pearl Jam, please click here.

May 3, 2006 Posted by | Eddie Vedder, Grunge, Guitars, Pearl Jam, Rock | Leave a comment