To be fair, Pearl Jam was pigeonholed into the Grunge movement of the day. However, that is not the case with their music. They are a bit above being locked into a single musical genre, and they drew on a much larger selection of musical inspirations than Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain ever did. This is their debut album, and coincidentally, their best album overall. This means that this album is likely to be an excellent listening experience, regardless of the circumstances and it should sound interesting. Let’s hear it.
We kick off with Once which has some ghostly sounds and bongo beats that sound very much like the 1995 James Bond film Goldeneye’s music. It is a really excellent beginning to this record, and the guitars enter, signalling the main part of the song from the go, It eventually launches into a really decent tune, with some awesome screaming by Eddie Vedder. The whole thing is a little Grunge-like, but to be fair, goes beyond that musically. The playing and sound on this album so far is wonderful, and the singing is absolutely infectious. Mike McCready’s wah-wah guitar solo is very excellent, and this is followed by a semi-breakdown of sorts. A very emotional and fantastic song, this is a cathartic song filled with emotion.
Next along is Even Flow which launches straight into a more Rock/Metal sort of territory. Eddie Vedder sings his heart out, and the sonics and guitars paint this song perfectly. A really fine listening experience, this has another catchy chorus. There is no doubt that these guys were on a musical mission. There is no way that this song is specifically Grunge, it doesn’t exactly have that feel to it. A very much catchy and anthemic stadium Rock song, this sounds fresh, dynamic and very good. The riffs in the midsection are rather Black Sabbath-like, before launching into an excellent guitar solo that puts the Hair Metallers to shame. It goes rather subtle after the guitar solo, before building back into the glorious song that it is. A very enjoyable and original listening experience. The guitars excellently mimic the vocals, and another wah-wah guitar solo finishes this off. Excellent.
Alive is the group’s breakthrough hit. It actually sounds very Led Zeppelin-esque. It has melodic vocals, strummed acoustic guitars and a great sense of musical accomplishment. Eddie Vedder sings from a deeply emotional place and has an original vocal delivery. This song is nothing short of amazing, it just sounds super cool. One can hear the emotional intensity and the power of the band throughout this song, and this is definitely a good piece of music for those dealing with heavy depression out there. In any case, this energetic Rock song has some excellent wall-of-sound textures and just sounds like a brilliant Pop/Rock masterpiece from the past. Nice way to kickstart the 1990s, it has a tremendous Mike McCready guitar solo that sounds unique and fresh, pulling out every trick that he possibly can do as a guitarist. A fine piece of music, this is powerful, emotional and fantastic from start to finish. The outro has some insane guitar playing verging on shredding and a punchy rhythm section. Really good tune, one of the gems by Pearl Jam. It ends with some excellent fragments of music and drum rolls. Brilliant.
Why Go is a shorter piece with some snappy drumbeats, wah-wah guitar and some other unique textures. This is another good song, although perhaps not as good as some of the earlier songs on this album. Despite that, the band plays like they are on fire. A very good listen with some great grooves about it, this piece is really top. The phrase: “Why go home?” is repeated here, just before a really amazing guitar solo launches into your ears. This record has barely aged and is a fine example of great songs and musical playing. It ends with some loose sounds, once again.
Next is Black which begins with clean electric guitars and a mix that sounds like it was done in the background. Soon enough, the band quickly kicks in with this song, and we are underway. It sounds rather dated but is okay nonetheless. A really interesting and good listen, given the effort. Not a bad tune, but not a fantastic tune either. This is a little disappointing, given the context of the album, the success of this song and Pearl Jam themselves. It just sounds like an ordinary piece of music. Some weird guitar parts are here, along with a piano playing away. Lyrically, it is very dark territory and just sounds like a rather odd and depressing song. Even the harmonies towards the end don’t do a great deal. Only worth hearing if you really must do so. It’s nearly six minutes long as well, unimpressive for the length that it is.
Following is Jeremy which begins with some awesome bass guitar, keyboards and hi-hats. Quickly enough, this piece gets kickstarted well and it is a much better tune than the previous one. This song sounds extremely good, full of catchy rhythms and hooks to give you some ear candy. This is well sung and played by the group, although it does sound a lot like U2. This song is apparently based on a true story, so it is worth hearing for that. The midsection has a very catchy riff, before leading back into the main section of the song. It builds up in pace and intensity in the second half. A very good song, even if Eddie Vedder sounds a lot like Bono from U2 with the vocals. A decent song nonetheless. The harmonies at the end are really excellent, and the band finish up once these conclude. It has an odd-sounding outro. Good song.
Oceans is next and is less than three minutes long. The song has clean electric guitars, weird basslines and Jim Morrison styled vocals by Eddie Vedder. Pounding drum loops and excellently crafted music is right here. This song sounds a lot like something from Led Zeppelin III. It is good, even if it isn’t the most original music here. A catchy and interesting piece of music to listen to, this is a grand and awesome tune. It’s good for what it is, even though it is clearly a lesser track on the album. It concludes with some beautiful guitar strumming.
Porch is another fairly short piece, which launches right into it with some furious electric guitar playing. Before long, the rest of the band kick in and we have quite an upbeat and decent listening experience. A good song, even though this is another short and less significant song. It is listenable though. There are some melodic guitar parts that are dual tracked for your pleasure. Once again, this is a good song but likely not a great song. There are some really excellent drum rolls to finish the guitar solo, before going straight back into the action. Eddie Vedder sounds really good, especially towards the end of the song with the repeated vocal part. It concludes nicely.
Up next is Garden which begins with more clean electric guitar parts and some soothing vocals which makes this music sound quite special. A really cool and laidback piece of music, it quickly launches into a very Heavy Metal sort of piece (especially for Pearl Jam) that borrows from the stop/start and loud/quiet dynamics that are on a Grunge basis. In any case, this is quite a deep and meaningful sounding song that is quite impressive. Although this is very much guitar-driven, it still has its place today in the music world. A powerful guitar solo then plays, with some tremolo effects added to it. The song eventually reaches a dramatic climax that is impressive. A good listen, although a bit lengthy. The guitar playing towards the end is really fine and keeps on going, all the way through the fade-out.
Following is Deep which sounds a little poorly thought out from the start. It has a quick scream from Eddie Vedder before launching into a very Rage Against The Machine sort of sounding tune. This is a good listen that has many layers of sound and musical ability for us to listen to and explore. It sounds a bit different sonically, but that’s okay. The sounds and mixing here are very amazing. A good and different listen, it has a huge variety of musical sections and energetic power to drive this song along. Some choppy drumbeats and more wah-wah guitar parts finish this well. A good piece of music.
Release is the last piece on this album. It begins with some rather good but dated sounding electric guitar riffs, some anthemic harmonies and some laidback instrumentation by Pearl Jam. Some rather surreal lyrics are here to listen to, which are different. This is a good nine-minute long piece to conclude this huge sounding album. It is a good song about catharsis and just sounds super fresh, nicely layered and overall decent. It sounds a lot like Stoner Rock or something similar. To be clear, this is not a Grunge album. It is actually more like a Rock album that breaks through barriers and influences, to be an original product. In the middle of the song, it goes very quiet and fades away. We then have some silence, before we return to the James Bond Goldeneye styled piece that was at the beginning of the album. Bear in mind that Pierce Brosnan wasn’t even 007 yet at this point, that would happen within a few years time. Still, this instrumental section is very good and awesome to listen to. A decent instrumental that sounds completely different to anything else out there, this is a good example of sounds and how they impact the listener. Nice listen anyway, a good way to finish off an album like this.
This is an interesting listen. It’s a very good example of Rock music and how using a huge amount of influences musically can make a great product and moment in the history of music. This is also Pearl Jam’s first and best album. It is worth hearing from start to finish, even if it does seem a little ordinary at times in terms of excitement. Nonetheless, a very good quality album that made Pearl Jam famous. Much more was to come after that.
If you liked the article and would like to support the author in his musical review quest, please donate to show your support. Thank you for your consideration. Chris Airey