Great “Ten” Review From A Recent Convert

by Kathy Davis on March 27, 2009

Chicago journalist David Wolinsky at online blog A.V. Club (an affiliate of hilarious faux-news publication The Onion) managed to avoid listening to “Ten” for the past 18 years…unbelieveable, right?  Avoiding these classic songs that seem to be so tightly women into the fabric of American music is no small feat, and it is exceedingly rare to read a truly fresh perspective on the album that started it all.   Mr. Wolinsky provides this, however, and reading his review of the “Ten” re-issue made me re-examine my own appreciation for the album.

Of course, we likely wouldn’t be posting this had Wolinsky been glad he avoided “Ten” all these years.  Highlights are below, and the original review can be found here.

The album gets off to an unassuming and lurching start, with “Once” eerily creeping alive with spare rattles of percussion perforated by a jazzy bassline and an ambience that vaguely recalls Peter Gabriel’s “Shock The Monkey.” Wasn’t this supposed to be grunge music? It’s an intriguing start to an album that went on to get certified platinum 12 times—and it now had my attention, but by no means was I yet enthralled. About 40 seconds in, “Once” jolts awake with the thunderous clap of a rattling lead-guitar line, something that, to my surprise, is on pretty much every song on the album. Even more astonishing was Vedder’s voice. He’s gruff and visceral—maybe not as raw as Cobain, but certainly as passionate and intense.

Over the years, Eddie unfairly got a bad rap for his voice—which is largely misplaced, even though it gave bands like Creed an inexplicable spot in the post-grunge sun. But his forceful roar is obviously the focal point of Ten—all the cock-rock-like solos and shiny production in the world ultimately serves as an excellent backdrop to Vedder’s caterwauling and fine baritone. There’s simply no way to overpower his voice, which is a good, since that’s something else that instantly became apparent with Ten: It’s very, very lush sounding.

“Evenflow” is a riff-heavy bee’s nest that lays on the whammy bar and wah-wah enough that it probably could have been a radio hit back in the ’70s in addition to the ’90s. Also, the songs are surprisingly complex for a debut record. It’s intensely focused, not with the purpose of “making it,” but from a desire to craft memorable and powerful songs. And the aforementioned gloss on the album isn’t bad in the slightest—the slickness merely enhances what is already great here: The versatility of the musicians. The drones on “Alive” and the grand, almost opera-like scale and depth of “Jeremy” is worlds away from the spare “Something In The Way,” but they’re no less affecting.

Ten is really, really solid—there isn’t a weak song on here, although the aptly titled coda “Release” isn’t exactly memorable, or at least isn’t within listening to it the first few times this week.

“Jeremy” is, of course, a clear standout, and not just because of its supposedly controversial video… There’s a somber stillness in the song when it begins with effected guitar letting the main riff ring out, and when it builds to the first chorus early on, it’s hard not to feel the hair on your arm standing on end. It’s a powerful song, and it manages to top itself repeatedly throughout—almost making a game of how impressive it can be. When it reaches the bridge, it’s hard not to feel the anticipation of what’s to come on the song. When it taps out for a subdued freakout at the very end, it’s intriguing instead of feeling like a letdown. There’s a delicate sleight of hand going on in that song that must be heard to be understood. Articulating it with words would merely cheapen it.

Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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