No Code by Pearl Jam

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No Code by Pearl JamIn 1996, Pearl Jam created a stoner rock classic with their fourth studio album, No Code. Here, the alternative grunge pioneers branched out with diverse music tracks which incorporated elements of blues, country, psychedelia and world music. The resulting record is not quite as forward and accessible as previous efforts by the band but does feature subtle, droning riffs, layered percussion, and philosophical lyrics all mixed with Pearl Jam’s established signature, hard rock sound.

As Pearl jam gained fame in the early 1990s, they grew increasingly uncomfortable with their success and began to rebel against the industry by refusing make music videos, issuing CDs in non-standard jackets and boycotting the Ticketmaster agency, which resulted in limiting the venues where the band was able to play and eventually led to the cancellation of their 1994 summer tour. There was also some internal strife within the band. After Pearl Jam finished the recording their third album, Vitalogy, drummer Dave Abbruzzese was fired for “political differences” when he disagreed with the Ticketmaster boycott. Abbruzzese was replaced by former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons, who joined the band in backing Neil Young on his 1995 album Mirror Ball, which in turn spawned two songs which landed on Pearl Jam’s 1995 EP, Merkin Ball.

On No Code, the group worked with producer Brendan O’Brien, with whom they had worked on 1993’s Vs. as well as Vitalogy. Work on the album began in Chicago during the summer of 1995 with other recording sessions taking place in New Orleans and their home studio in Seattle.


No Code by Pearl Jam
Released: August 27, 1996 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: Chicago Recording Company, Chicago, July 1995 – May 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Sometimes
Hail, Hail
Who You Are
In My Tree
Smile
Off He Goes
Habit
Red Mosquito
Lukin
Present Tense
Mankind
I’m Open
Around the Bend
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Sitar, Harmonica
Stone Gossard – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Mike McCready – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass, Chapman, Vocals
Jack Irons – Drums

No Code by Pearl Jam

Written by vocalist Eddie Vedder, the opening track “Sometimes” is subtle and quiet, almost jazzy, as it feels like it is on the verge of exploding any moment but never does. In contrast, “Hail, Hail” is a strong rocker with a sound like the Pearl Jam of old in their full glory. Released as a single, this track reached the Top 10 on both the Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts. An odd but cool percussive intro by Irons ushers in “Who You Are” before Vedder’s vocals and a guitar riff by Stone Gossard cut through in a simple song structure, which gradually progresses and builds as it goes along. This track has a very Eastern feel in its vibe and lyrical message.

“In My Tree” works as another rhythm-driven track with more animated and soulful vocals than anything presented thus far. While most of this song feels distant and slightly under baked, near the very end it builds into a driving and droning hard rocker. Bassist Jeff Ament wrote the music for “Smile”, a Neil Young inspired driving rocker, complete with harmonica and a consistent, solid beat. “Off He Goes” is a pleasant acoustic ballad with reserved lead vocals and a fine mixture of lead guitars by Gossard and Mike McCready on top. This song unfolds in a very methodical way, making it a nice reliever of the tensions of some of the more potent, shorter tunes on the album. Speaking of tension, “Habit” is tight knit rocker where some heavy blues meets strong alternative vibes, while “Red Mosquito” was inspired by Vedder’s bought of food poisoning and features a buzzy lead guitar played by McCready using a Zippo lighter.

Pearl Jam

“Lukin” is a very short, two verse, one chorus punk rocker where Vedder strains his voice to the point of nearly being unrecognizable, followed by “Present Tense”, a slow and moody, almost dark track featuring differing guitar textures by McCready. The most unique song on the album is “Mankind”, written and sung by Gossard, with a sound approximating seventies glam rock. The artsy “I’m Open” has spoken vocal narration with wild guitar effects, synths and some piano for a New Age atmosphere, while “Around the Bend” wraps the album as an acoustic, almost country arrangement, save for the unique, tom-fused drum beat by Irons.

No Code debuted at number one in the US and topped the charts in several countries. In spite of this, much of the band’s fan base were dissatisfied with the change in musical direction and this album ultimately became the first Pearl Jam album to not reach multi-platinum status.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

Vitalogy by Pearl Jam

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Vitalogy by Pearl JamReleased in late 1994, Vitalogy is the raw, aggressive, experimental and somewhat bizarre third album by Pearl Jam. The album was produced by Brendan O’Brien, who also worked on the group’s 1993 album Vs. However, this recording has a much more stripped-down, lean, and slightly improvised sound, which received mixed reactions from critics and fans. Further, the album is very uneven, with some of the most potent material being sandwiched between complete filler or incomplete compositions. All that being said, Vitalogy is certainly original, diverse, and uncompromising and an essential cornerstone of the group’s collection.

Most of the tracks were written and recorded while Pearl Jam toured to support Vs. during 1993 and 1994. Three main studios in cities at opposite corners of the U.S. were used during this time, with the finishing touches and mixing done at Heart’s Bad Animals in Seattle. The album was originally titled “Life”, but was changed when a new packaging scheme and concept were designed by lead vocalist and lyricist Eddie Vedder, who also contributed some guitar playing for the first time on a Pearl Jam record.

There were also increased tensions among the group members, which stemmed from substance abuse and personal feuds among band members and ultimately led to the group’s firing of drummer Dave Abbruzzese once recording had completed. Lead guitarist Mike McCready, who entered rehab during the album’s production, has noted the album’s shortage of solos and the tunes being of a more rhythmic nature.


Vitalogy by Pearl Jam
Released: November 22, 1994 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: in Seattle, Atlanta, & New Orleans, November 1993–October 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Last Exit
Spin the Black Circle
Not for You
Tremor Christ
Nothingman
Whipping
Pry, To
Corduroy
Bugs
Satan’s Bed
Better Man
Aye Davanita
Immortality
Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Accordion
Mike McCready – Guitars, Vocals
Stone Gossard – Guitars, Vocals
Jeff Ament – Bass, Vocals
Dave Abbruzzese – Drums
 
Vitalogy by Pearl Jam

 

Vitalogy starts with a couple of aggressive and high energy tunes. After a jazz improve-like intro, the opener “Last Exit” breaks into frenzy of upbeat drums, and includes a quirky backwards-masked guitar lead. “Spin the Black Circle” is another ripping number with an almost-punk guitar by Stone Gossard. Written as a tribute to vinyl records, the song was released as the lead single from the album. It peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and won the band its first Grammy Award, receiving the award for Best Hard Rock Performance.

“Not for You” is a bit calmer with a steady beat and, with the exception of Vedder’s angst-ridden, strained and out-of-tune vocals, this may have passed as a straight up rock song from the 1980s. In fact, on this track McCready played a 12-string Rickenbacker given to him by Tom Petty. The most melodic song thus far on the album with interesting counter-riffs by the duo guitarists who co-wrote the music, “Tremor Christ” is a slow musical rotation of guitar chops and bass riffs by Jeff Ament. The song was recorded in one night in New Orleans and it managed to reach number 16 on both the Mainstream Rock chart, despite not officially being released as a single. Ament wrote the almost-Americana-like-waltz of “Nothingman”, a searching and melancholy tune which offers a sonic break to the early part of the album.

The first couple of gratuitous fillers come next with Vedder’s volatile and frenzied, four-chord rocker “Whipping” and what sounds like a studio jam of an aborted song called “Pry, To”. Then comes the best overall track on the album, “Corduroy”, which captures much of the same lightning as the better tracks on their debut album Ten. The song begins with McCready’s tense guitar arpeggio and finishes with Ament’s late song bass riff (which is very reminiscent of a similar section in Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”). In between, is desperate yet melodic screed on the pressures of fame and the absurdity that the same brown corduroy jacket Vedder once bought for $12 was being sold for about 50 times that price, because it was suddenly “hip”.

The album falls to its nadir with “Bugs”, a nearly solo track by Vedder, where he spouts absurd lyrics over a simple two-chord accordion riff – a joke song which is much more annoying than entertaining. More prime album real estate is wasted on “Satan’s Bed”, although this is much more listenable than previous song and with a decent sixties-influenced riff by Gossard. The drums on “Satan’s Bed” were performed by drum tech Jimmy Shoaf, as Abbruzzese was hospitalized with tonsillitis.

The highlight of the latter part of the album is “Better Man”, a song Vedder wrote while in high school. After an interesting feedback-laden intro section, the song proper contains emotional and melodic vocals above picked chords with a slight organ played by O’Brien in the distance. This haunting intro takes up nearly half the song before it kicks in with the full band arrangement. The bridge/outro part is best part of song as “Better man” completes strongly as a minor masterpiece which reached the top of the Mainstream Rock chart. After another long fade-in to join a piece mid jam, the instrumental “Aye Davanita” has a slightly interesting groove. The acoustic and strummed electric driven “Immortality” is steady throughout but with not much movement, while the long, sound collage closer “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me” is really a cheap knock-off of “Revolution #9” (which we’re no fans of to begin with) and this monstrous filler tends to cheapen the album as a whole.

In its first week of exclusively vinyl release, Vitalogy sold 35,000 copies and was the first vinyl album to chart due to exclusively vinyl sales in nearly a decade. The album has gone on to be certified five times platinum and was nominated for two Grammys in 1996. With new drummer Jack Irons, Pearl Jam promoted the album with worldwide tours which were continually complicated by their ongoing boycott of Ticketmaster outlets.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1994 albums.

1994 Images

 

Vs. by Pearl Jam

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Vs. by Pearl Jam Pearl Jam tried to strike a balance between embracing their phenomenal success brought on by their debut Ten (our 1991 Album of the Year) and trying to maintain their rigorous standards of integrity in the face of that massive commercial success. The band set out on an intentionally obscure path which mirrored the “secret society” movement of Led Zeppelin at the height of that band’s popularity with their untitled fourth album in 1971. Like that classic album, the title Vs. does not appear anywhere on the cover, no singles were released from the album until several years later, and Pearl Jam also refused to produce any music videos from the album.

The album was originally slated for the title “Five Against One”, which represented the band’s perspective on their struggles trying to make this sophomore record. However, the title was changed shortly before its release to Vs. as a mocking tribute to all the media stories that would compare Pearl Jam against another Seattle-based band, primarily Nirvana. Lead singer Eddie Vedder took personal exception to this adversarial tone because most of the Seattle bands worked together in promoting their scene. The title was changed so late in the process that some of the first cassette pressings of the album were labeled Five Against One.

Vs. was co-produced by Brendan O’Brien and contains a rawer and more aggressive sound compared with the band’s previous release. In fact, some members of the band have since lamented that they wished the debut had more of a vintage sound like Vs.. O’Brien used an unusual linear approach of recording and mixing each song in turn so the band can focus singularly on each track, with most of the music developed through jam sessions. The lyrical content, written primarily by Vedder, is at times simplistic and self-righteous but this is offset by a passionate delivery with an intense and live-sounding performance.
 


Vs. by Pearl Jam
Released: October 19, 1993 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: Nicasio, CA and Seattle, WA, March–May 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Go
Animal
Daughter
Glorified G
Dissident
W.M.A.
Blood
Rearviewmirror
Rats
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Leash
Indifference
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mike McCready – Guitars
Stone Gossard – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass
Dave Abbruzzese – Drums
 
Vs by Pearl Jam

 
Dave Abbruzzese joined Pearl Jam on drums in mid 1991, making this his first album recorded with the band. He composed the music for the album’s frantic opening rocker “Go”, a song relentless throughout and building right until its crashing end. It was the first single from the album on international releases. “Animal” was composed by guitarist Stone Gossard but is somewhat less appealing than the opener, yet adequate due to its short but great lead. The album’s original title Five Against One was taken from a lyric from “Animal”.

Daughter by Pearl Jam“Daughter” is a storytelling song in the same vein as “Jeremy” from debut album. It is a surreal acoustic tune by Gossard, with an otherwise standard arrangement until it dissolves into an odd, faded ending. Lyrically, Vedder wrote about a girl with a learning difficulty which is misinterpreted as outright defiance by her parents. This rather odd song became the most popular radio hit from the album. Although never officially released as a single in the U.S., “Daughter” song topped Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock charts for eight consecutive weeks and became the band’s first Top 40 single on the Pop charts.

“Glorified G” is a light, almost poppy song with chorus hook complete with backing vocals. Musically, the song features a twangy, Country-esque guitar by Mike McCready and an upright bass by Jeff Ament. Lyrically, the song was inspired by an incident after Abbruzzese told the band he had just bought two guns and Vedder was outraged, sparking a conversation about guns within the band. Overall the song straddles the line between country and funk before it later breaks into a strong rock section in the outro. “Dissident” is a political statement by Vedder with great vocal melodies and music collaborated by Gossard, McCready, and Ament, built from a live jam. The good, melodic guitars lead this slow but strong storytelling song, again not released in the United States, but charted as a single in several other countries.

RearViewMirror by Pearl Jam“W.M.A.” is driven by Abbruzzese’s rolling drums and Ament’s repetitive bass lines never really deviates making the song kind of mundane after the first three minutes, despite the fast and funky guitars and U2-like quality of the way it builds over a simple phrase. “Blood” alternates between thrash metal and funk, which is interesting at first but soon sounds like nothing more than an unorganized jam used for album filler. “Rearviewmirror” is a song of great motion that contains a syncopated riff and bass line and an E-bow effect by McCready, blending new wave type music with Vedder’s distinctive grunge vocals on top. “Rats” is a rather typical (by this point in the album) funk/rock song, upbeat and entertaining, but not quite original.

“Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” may be the climatic point of the album. It is an acoustic waltz by Vedder that acts as a nice break late in the album with a definitive chorus hook. An overall melancholy tune about nostalgia and long lost love told through the eyes of an elder woman who never left her small hometown, rather typical pop song fare but not typical of Pearl Jam. While the album is pretty uniformly strong throughout, it is kind of weak at the end. “Leash” is heavy, shouting, with bad transitions and rather uninteresting. The final track “Indifference” is a mundane song which completely falls in line with its title, save for just a light tinge of cabaret blues by Gossard which may be the song’s redemption. Still, the deep connection which the song is trying to accomplish never quite materializes and Vs. does not finish as strongly as it should have.

Still, the album was nothing short of phenomenal commercially. Upon its release, Vs. set the record for most copies of an album sold in its first week – well over a million – a record it held for five years. It occupied the number one spot on the Billboard album charts for five weeks and has been certified seven times platinum by the RIAA in the United States. It was also nominated for “Best Rock Album” at the 1995 Grammy Awards, giving Pearl Jam the mainstream acceptance that they claimed they loathed.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.

 

Ten by Pearl Jam

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1991 Album of the Year Banner
Ten by Pearl JamPearl Jam‘s excellent debut is one of the most potent and indelible of debut albums ever released. The 1991 album, called Ten after the number of tracks included on the album, was released on August 27, 1991, at the vanguard of the Seattle grunge invasion, and has sold just over ten million copies to date. More importantly, the fusion of syles and songcraft worked to forge a sound which would have immediate ripples through the hard rock world and beyond.

The album and the band itself came together after situations that developed rapidly in the 18 months prior to Ten‘s release. Pearl Jam’s founding members, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Steve Gossard, played together in the band Mother Love Bone during the late 1980s. That band’s career was cut short when, shortly before the release of the group’s debut album, vocalist Andrew Wood died of a drug overdose in 1990. Devastated, Gossard and Ament did not play together for months until they began jamming with fellow Seattle guitarist Mike McCready. Soon they recorded a few instrumental demos, which came to be known as the “Stone Gossard Demos”. These tapes were circulated in the hopes of finding a singer and drummer to complete a rock band. San Diego vocalist Eddie Vedder acquired a copy of the demo and began to write lyrics for the instrumentals. Songs originally titled “Dollar Short”, “Agytian Crave”, and “E Ballad” were soon reworked as “Alive”, “Once”, and “Black”. Gossard and Ament heard the updated demo with Vedder’s vocals and lyrics, and sent him a ticket to fly to Seattle for an audition on October 13, 1990. There Vedder rehearsed with the band, which now included drummer Dave Krusen.

The new band was initially named Mookie Blaylock after the New Jersey Nets basketball star, but because Blaylock had recently landed a deal with Nike, the band had to reconsider the name and settle on Pearl Jam, while Ten‘s title was taken from Blaylock’s jersey number. They soon landed a deal with Epic Records and entered Seattle’s London Bridge Studios in March 1991 with producer Rick Parashar. In little more than a month, the sessions were completed and soon after, in May 1991, Krusen left the band to enter rehab and was replaced by drummer Matt Chamberlain.


Ten by Pearl Jam
Released: August 27, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Rick Parashar & Pearl Jam
Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, March 27-April 26, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Once
Even Flow
Alive
Why Go
Black
Jeremy
Oceans
Porch
Garden
Deep
Release / Master-Slave
Eddie Vedder – Vocals
Mike McCready – Lead Guitar
Steve Gossard – Guitar
Jeff Ament – Bass
Dave Krusan – Drums
 
Buy Ten by Pearl Jam

Vedder’s lyrics for the album are mainly negative and deal with subjects like depression, loneliness, and suicide. The song “Jeremy” was inspired, in part, by a true story in which a high school student shot himself in front of his classmates. This haunting but catchy tune includes an unconventional storytelling vocal melody during the verse and a soaring hook during the chorus. The music for the song was written on acoustic guitar by bassist Jeff Ament in February 1991, just before the band went into the studio.

Both the opener “Once” and the brilliant “Alive” were formed as part of a three song cycle by Vedder called “Mamasan” (with the third song, “Footsteps”, a B-side on the “Jeremy” single). “Alive” starts with a slow, methodical, majestic intro by Gossard, but is then dominated by Vedder with his distinct and odd vocals and melody. A simple but entertaining guitar riff in the calm bridge gives way to a contrasting coda/crescendo jam by McCready. While the song’s lyric deals with the shock of a son discovering that his real father is dead, many fans have come to interpret interpreted “Alive” as an uplifting and inspirational anthem.

Evenflow SingleAccording to the band members, “Evenflow” was an extremely difficult song to record, taking up to 75 to 100 attempts to capture effectively. The result, however, is another classic, vocally driven song with a great hook during chorus and a heavy funk riff by Gossard. The song nearly fades away during the lead bridge, before coming back with a vengeance in another outtro crescendo. Vedder’s lyrics describe his experience of being a homeless man and panhandler. The song was released as the second single from Ten and peaked at #3 on the Mainstream Rock charts.

The album also includes a couple of calm, surreal, melancholy efforts that act as an excellent counter-weight to the heavier songs on the album. “Black” is a melancholy song with obscure lyrics that appear to deal with a loss of some kind. It contains a signature, harmonic vocal motif which, combined with an accompanying lead guitar, forms a memorable sonic hook in the background of the song. The acoustic and melodic “Oceans” is nearly a love song with a few odd passages and percussive effects which make it a unique ballad. “Release” is a more droning and atmospheric piece.

Pearl Jam in 1991

Ten was not an immediate success, as it initially sold slowly upon its release. It took until the later part 1992 until it finally caught on in the mainstream, peaking at #2 on the Billboard album chart. Ironically, Pearl Jam was then accused by some of “jumping on the grunge bandwagon” in the wake of the immediate success by their crosstown contemporaries Nirvana, even though that band released their breakthrough album, Nevermind in September 1991, a month later than Pearl Jam’s debut. There has been much debate over the years over which of these two albums from 1991 was the superior effort. For us at Classic Rock Review there is no contest as Ten is deeper, better sounding, with better songs and much less filler material. That is why it is our Album of the Year for 1991.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.