A love letter to Pearl Jam from Castlebar

I was trying to figure out during the week as to why we had yet to write a love letter to one of my favorite acts and i guess it is now probably safe to say better late than never!!

I could write a thousand words about this next act and but yet i do not think i would be able to describe my love for this act. 

In 1992 i was sitting upstairs in a well known take-away  restuarant called Casey Jones on the main street in Castlebar (best bacon burger in Mayo might i add.) One evening after school i was handed a cassestte tape by a scruffy looking dude that went by the name of Declan Swift. 

The legendary and iconic band Pearl Jam during a photo shoot for Ten in 1991, check out  the band’s original drummer Dave Kruse who played drums on Ten.

At the time i was listening to lot  of Pixies, Nirvana, and Sonic Youth. That day Declan handed me the tape and said very little only just to say, don’t ask any questions, just listen to this tape. 

I took the advice from this scruffy dude as if he had just handed me the holy covenant. Not realising that he had actually handed me the holy covenant i rushed home and stuck on a little unknown album (at the time) called TEN.

On first listen i knew something very special was going on here but it like most albums for me, it was that second crucial important listen that pulled me right in. 

I could give the usual “Album changed my life cliche” but it really did. It opened my mind and introduced me to a whole new generation of music. I’m going to do my best effort to dissect the album here because I believe this album needs the best possible attention.

The album was released on August 27th 1991 but it would be a year later before i had the chance and opportunity to listen to it in its entirety. Luckily for me TEN caught on locally amongst the grunge unit in the area and it also introuduced me to a lot of new friends who had common interests in music, (Thanks Declan) 

Debut albums typically come in two fashions. The first being that the album explodes and all of a sudden you’re one of the biggest bands in the world (Led Zeppelin, The Doors and of course Pearl Jam) or it barely warrants any attention and the band suddenly rises to fame eight or nine years later (The Red Hot Chili Peppers didn’t achieve mainstream success until BSSM which was their fifth album).

 

Pearl Jam was a lucky enough band to attract mainstream attention from their first album Ten-but not immediately. Released in late 1991, only after the explosion of Nirvana in mid-1992 did Pearl Jam become a household name with hit singles like “Even Flow” and “Jeremy”. The only album to feature drummer Dave Krusen, Pearl Jam was at an amazing time in their careers, just young men with a dream and a few distortion pedals making in-your-face rock songs and heartfelt ballads better than almost any band out there at the time.

In the 21 years since its release, Ten has sold 13 million copies in America alone and is one of the best-selling debuts in music history. Obviously it must be good right? Well the answer my friend is yes, this is one of the finest records of the ’90s and one of Pearl Jam’s all time best, in my opinion only beaten by their 1994 effort “Vitalogy”.

 

Unlike other PJ records where loads of different influences were displayed, Pearl Jam jumped into this record ready to rock their audience’s faces. Even the ballads rock pretty hard at times (with the exception of “Oceans” which is pretty much the only soft song on the album) and the guitars are at their soloing prime, whereas soloing took a back seat on future releases with more mature, riff-oriented songwriting. Dave Krusen is a fantastic drummer, utilizing a subdued technique not requiring loads of technicality like the abrasive and wild Dave Abbruzzesse or the extremely technical Matt Cameron.

A rare unseen photo of Pearl Jam prepping for the release of Ten

 

He has some especially good drum tracks on “Why Go” and “Once”, in which he uses a very syncopated open hi-hat rhythm along with some offbeat snare hits, leading the bass along in contrast to the guitar’s straight palm-muted strumming. He also knows when to take a back seat and just let the music control itself-his soft percussion on “Black” or his use of the timpani on “Oceans” are prime examples, with Krusen doing soft rolls on the timpani behind Vedder’s scat-singing and the beautiful arpeggios. Bassist Jeff Ament once again never ceases to impress on Ten, carrying a groove that cannot be stopped.

Every time you hear an Ament bass line you simply want to kick back and tap your foot. Maybe his most famous performance is on this record-the opening bass line of “Jeremy” was forever engrained into minds across the world after that song blew up and catapulted the band into superstardom. He also offers some more soft, melodically-inflected playing on “Garden” and one of the grooviest bass tracks I’ve heard in alternative rock on the massive single “Even Flow”. The mixing was done perfectly so every single glorious note of Ament’s bass guitar can be heard crisply and clearly, and you can soak in every second of its goodness.

 

Vedder’s lyrics are equally impressive if a bit depressing and off-putting at times: writing masterfully about loss in “Black”, and a young boy’s suicide in “Jeremy” (which was based on a true story) are some of Vedder’s best lyrics, but his true triumph comes with the Mama-Son trilogy, three songs about a young boy’s life and how utterly f*cked up it becomes (note: the third song, “Footsteps”, is on the Lost Dogs compilation album).Part one, “Alive” begins with a young boy learning that what he thought was his father is actually his stepfather, and that his biological father died without ever seeing his son (“Son, she said/Have I got a little story for you”).

 

The boy’s mother soon goes absolutely nuts because the boy grows up to look exactly like his biological father, driving his mother to the point where she rapes her son. This messes the boy’s brain up beyond repair, and in “Once” he eventually grows up to become a serial killer (“I got a bomb in my temple that’s about to explode/I got a sixteen-gauge hidden under my clothes”.) He is eventually taken into custody and executed in the final song “Footsteps” where he reminisces from beyond the grave about where his mother went wrong and destroyed his life. A truly powerful collection of songs.

So to my scruffy curly haired friend who handed me the “covenant” that day in Casey Jones i would like to say simply say, thank you Declan 

 

As you were Castlebar…

 

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