The musical movement known as 'grunge' includes a disparate group of rock bands, most of whom hailed from the Seattle, Washington, area in the early '90s. Pioneering an emotional and open form of music in stark opposition to the excess of the rock scene of the late '80s, the grunge roll-call includes names such as Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Stone Temple Pilots and of course Nirvana. But of all these bands, only the quintet known as Pearl Jam survives to this day as a vital and cohesive entity.
The group of Eddie Vedder (vocals), Stone Gossard (guitar), Mike McCready (also guitar), Jeff Ament (bass) and Matt Cameron1 (drummer) have produced seven studio albums over the past decade. Along the way they have endured and overcome personal and musical obstacles and trials, but despite all this they have always stayed true to their ideals and have earned the lasting respect and adoration of their fans.
At the dawn of the 21st Century, Pearl Jam have survived not only their own trials but also the trials of the grunge genre as well.
Rivers, Bones and Dogs - The Genesis of the Band
The founding members of Pearl Jam were guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament, whose first encounter with each other was on the music scene in Seattle in the late '80s. At the time Ament had been a member of the band Green River with Stone Gossard on guitar (also in the band was future Mudhoney frontman Mark Arm), but when the group split the pair moved on to Mother Love Bone, a band fronted by the eccentric Andrew Wood. Despite the fact that Mother Love Bone were a promising band, they were not to achieve great success, as Wood died of a heroin overdose in 1990, just a short time after the release of the critically acclaimed debut album entitled Apple.
As Wood had been a well known and much loved member of the Seattle musical community, a group of friends and acquaintances under the direction of then Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, re-scored the Temple of the Dog tribute album in his memory. Gossard and Ament lent their talents to the project and were joined by second guitarist Mike McCready, a school friend of Gossard, Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and the contrasting talents of Cornell and former Bad Radio vocalist Eddie Vedder in the voice department. As it happened, this was Vedder's major label debut.
After the recording of Temple of the Dog, Ament, Gossard, McCready and Vedder made the decision to pursue their future in music together. At the same time a demo tape, that had Ament, Gossard and McCready 'jamming' together, had been doing the rounds of a number of record labels thanks to the efforts of one Jack Irons, who at the time was a drummer with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The record label Epic was interested in what they had done and after recruiting a drummer of their own in the form of Dave Krusen2, the quintet signed with the big-time label in 1991, dubbing themselves Pearl Jam, after briefly toying with the moniker of Mookie Blaylock but quite wisely passing it over.
A Perfect Ten - The Overnight Sensation
One year later in 1992 the band emerged from the studio with their debut album titled simply Ten. Featuring a very strong batch of emotionally plaintive yet stunningly powerful songs, the album transformed Pearl Jam into an overnight phenomenon. Tracks like 'Alive' and 'Once' reached places within the psyche of their audience that even the efforts of their counterparts in grunge could not touch as Vedder laid his soul bare to the world. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was quoted at the time as saying that Pearl Jam had 'jumped on the alternative bandwagon', but nevertheless Ten and the tour on which they embarked to support it were an amazing success. Drained by the experience, Vedder came to the point of emotional collapse before the tour's end.
The emotional strain of the tour was only added to by the controversy that surrounded the promotional video shot for the single 'Jeremy'. Based on Vedder's memories of a bullied child turning on his tormentors, the video was blamed for inspiring a troubled young man to take a firearm to his school and open fire on his class. As a result of the media attention and trauma of the event, Pearl Jam did not release another video until Todd McFarlane did 'Do the Evolution' eight years later.
The Dangers of Experimentation - The Wilderness of the Mid-'90s
The first album was followed in 1993 by Vs which met with mixed reviews from the musical press. The tracks on the album were far from poor and this follow-up to Ten sold well, but it never really came close to the heights reached by the first album, suffering greatly in comparison. In 1994 the balance was redressed for a time as Vitalogy saw the band move back towards the strength they had shown on Ten. Though eccentric in places, Vitalogy topped the US album charts and featured classic efforts such as 'Spin the Black Circle' and the timeless 'Betterman'. In the same year Kurt Cobain tragically took his own life and unfounded rumours spread that Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl would replace the newly departed Dave Abbruzzese in Pearl Jam. But in the end it was Jack Irons who stepped into the role of sticksman as he, in turn, left behind the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Two years after Vitalogy, the band released the unconventional No Code. In a deliberate move the cover of the album left off the band's name. Most of the album consisted of fairly unconventional and semi-acoustic tracks and much like Vs before it was met with a mixed reception among critics and fans alike. Another two years elapsed before the band returned once more with Yield in 1998. This, the band's fifth studio album, saw a partial return to the form of their heavier and more self-assured sound, rather than the lighter outings on the previous offering, with epic tracks like 'Given to Fly' winning them new fans and reminding old stalwarts why they followed them in the first place. In the same year Live - On Two Legs the first Pearl Jam live album was also released.
Back in the Real World - a Long-awaited Return to Form
Recording a cover of Wayne Cochran's rock n' roll classic 'Last Kiss' as a charity single in 1999, the band reached Number 2 in the US singles chart with their genuinely moving rendition of the song. A year later the full-length album Binaural was released with Matt Cameron taking over from Jack Irons who was forced to take time away from the band due to poor health. This album again saw a distinct upturn in the quality and strength of Pearl Jam's sound and was followed by a world tour which brought a bittersweet mixture of triumph and tragedy.
The largest tour the band had undertaken in years, the decision was made to release double CDs of 25 sets from the European leg as a poke in the eye to bootleggers everywhere. The albums proved to be so popular that a total of five entered the US album charts in the same week ushering Pearl Jam into the record books as the first band to ever have that number of different records in the chart at one time. The record was only broken when the same was done for the US leg of the tour and a total of seven of these recordings entered the charts in the same week.
Tragedy and Triumph - Roskilde and Beyond
But the future of Pearl Jam as a touring band was thrown into question in June, 2000. While playing a set at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark the band was witness to a horrific incident as the huge crowd before them surged forwards onto the security barriers in front of the stage. Overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of festival-goers in the crush, the security was powerless to prevent the deaths of eight people. A further 26 were rushed to hospital, three with serious injuries. Though there was no question of the band being to blame, the experience shook the group to the core and they came close to turning their backs on playing live shows altogether.
However, the band returned in 2002 with their seventh studio album titled Riot Act. Here once more the steady rise back to the status of a genuine rock outfit continued as the play list included a selection of solid, heavier tracks, the customary songs dealing with delicate emotional issues as well as a few oddball experimental jaunts. The first single released from the album was the track 'I Am Mine', a light song tinged with folk overtones which seemed somehow apt for a band that have endured the last ten years and still retain their moral and artistic integrity today.
|Select Discography and Links|
- Ten 1992
- Vs 1993
- Vitalogy 1994
- No Code 1996
- Yield 1998
- Live: On Two Legs 1998
- Binaural 2000
- Riot Act 2002