Celebrating two key album-versaries from America’s most important rock band
It’s funny to consider, given they are one of my favorite bands for almost 30 years now, I wasn’t very big on Pearl Jam the day Ten came out on August 27, 1991.
They didn’t have thrift shop grit of Nirvana and Mudhoney, nor did they possess the brooding mystery of Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. To me, they looked like clowns in their mall hippie threads and Jeff Ament’s dumb hat. I was very much like, “Forget these dudes, turn up the Anthrax!” In fact, I spent the majority of my senior year rolling my eyes in Pearl Jam’s direction. Come to think of it, I was really into Mother Love Bone at the time because I loved that nether region between hair metal and alternative rock where bands like Enuff Z’Nuff, Redd Kross, Saigon Kick and Warrior Soul existed. And my first impression of Eddie was that he was no Andy Wood. So I went back to my copies of Use Your Illusion and called it a day.
Then I saw them at Lollapalooza the summer following my high school graduation in 1992. Watching this band from the second tier of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s amphitheater not only gave me a new appreciation for the songs on Ten, but for Eddie as well, looking on in awe as this dude started climbing the stage scaffolding with little care of slipping to his doom. Also, Dave Abbruzzese remains to this day the best drummer Pearl Jam ever had in its ranks, with his Ian Paice-by-way-of-Keith Moon style of rhythm truly opening up Ten faves like “Once,” “Alive,” “Deep” and “Porch” to their fullest potentials on that lighted stage.
By the time their fourth album No Code came out on August 27, 1996, Pearl Jam had cemented themselves into my personal Top 5 favorite bands. And while the album indeed marked, as my esteemed colleague in music journalism Brian Ives suggested in his own anniversary article, the end of their run as a mainstream success story, No Code nonetheless codified the group as one of the key survivors of the Grunge Hype Fit of the early 90s. Mind you, it was the last PJ album until 2009’s Backspacer to reach no. 1 on the Billboard album charts. Yet a tour in 1994-95 hobbled by the group’s war against Ticketmaster coupled with their refusal to carbon copy their biggest hits, opting rather to their own distinctive style of Alternative AOR where Mike Watt plays bass for Neil Young and Crazy Horse and Ian Gillain replaces Stiv Bators in the Dead Boys. Not to mention it was the first PJ album to feature former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons, without whom as the legend goes Pearl Jam might have never existed.
No Code also came out as my grandfather, the man who raised me, was slowly dying in a VA hospital in Albany, NY; the sorrow of which was compounded by the fresh heartbreak I was experiencing after my college girlfriend Carolyn ghosted on me (and her cat) literally the day after she graduated. So as much as I reveled in the garage punk fury of the album’s heavier cuts like “Hail, Hail,” “Habit” and “Lukin,” it was the calmer moments of No Code I held onto the tightest. You will not find two more beautiful PJ ballads than “Off He Goes” and “Around The Bend.” The comfort and calm of these Vedder-penned acoustic numbers, the tenderness by which Eddie sings, was incredibly helpful in one of the most emotionally difficult times in my life. They offered me solace when I was in the throes of some serious heartache, certainly the deepest pain I ever felt at 23-years-old.
Looking back on 30 years of Ten and 25 years of No Code certainly brings out a scattershot of feels as they simultaneously run parallel to one of the most joyous times in my life and one of the most tragic. But I’m grateful that I finally came around to Pearl Jam to ride alongside me through it all.