On 27th August 1991, Pearl Jam released their debut album Ten; a defining moment for the Seattle-born grunge scene. Released shortly after Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam were seen as jumping on the grunge bandwagon, but the successful impact of Ten over 20 years after its release suggests otherwise.
Album-opener ‘Once’ takes nearly 40 seconds to build up before the crescendo of guitars and drums hits you. From then on in the album takes you on a journey through moments of sheer rock and roll bliss to quieter more delicate melodies, but all coupled with Eddie Vedder’s mesmerizing voice.
‘Once’ blends straight into ‘Even Flow’, the second single to be release from the album and probably the most iconic single from the album. Structured similarly to many other great rock songs it starts off full force, blasting its way through the verses and choruses before reaching the solo and breakdown. It is this structure, along with McCready’s riff and Vedder’s rather stark lyrics describing a homeless man that have secured this song in the top 100 greatest rock songs on several lists.
Third track ‘Alive’ was the first single to be release from Ten. It is slower than the preceding tracks and a more ballad-style of song. The lyrics are partly autobiographical and part fiction telling the story of a young man discovering that his father is actually his stepfather. ‘Alive’ actually part of a trio of songs that form a mini-opera, along with ‘Once’ and ‘Footsteps’. After the third chorus, the song features an extended guitar solo that is almost two minutes in length and takes you to the end of the track.
One of the quietest moments the album offers comes in the form of ‘Black’. Though the band never released it as a single, despite being encouraged to do so, it is one of the most well-known songs in the band’s arsenal and was recently voted as the favourite by the fans. It showcases Vedder’s vocal range and offers some of his most endearing lyrics: “I know some day you’ll have beautiful life, I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky, but why can’t it be mine”.
Third single ‘Jeremy’ is one of the most notorious songs from Ten, though mainly centred around the music video. The song describes two true stories: one about a classmate Vedder knew from school but more notably it depicts the story of Jeremy Wade Delle, a 15-year old sophomore student who shot himself in front of his classmates. The composition of the song features the use of Ament’s 12-string bass which creates the distinct opening and closing sounds of the track. The song received nominations for “Best Rock Song” and “Best Hard Rock Performance” at the 1993 Grammy’s and reached the UK Top 20.
The album’s closing song ‘Release’ is another softer offering from the band which slowly build up into an outpouring of emotion that is heightened by the distinctive timbre of Vedder’s voice. The soft opening and closing to the album takes you on a journey of highs and lows and gives a fantastic mix of both the softer offerings and classic rock anthems of the band’s early work. The diverse range of songs showcases each member’s versatile musicality and is one of the most compelling reasons that led Ten to become an instrumental album in popularising alternative rock and the grunge movement into the mainstream. To date it has sold over 10 million copies and remains the most commercially successful of Pearl Jam’s albums.
Ten was released on August 27th 1991 via Epic Records.