They’re Still Alive: Breaking Down the Best Albums of Pearl Jam

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So few 90s grunge bands have maintained relevance in the ever demanding face of mainstream culture. Most fell by the wayside, swept into obscurity, forgotten relics of adolescent angst and the throws of pubescent passion. Some do linger, returning to the basement bliss of smoky rooms and aggravated neighbors, clinging to what precious few fans remain.

Pearl Jam, as anyone can tell you, has managed not only to transcend this trend, but the grunge status as well, claiming their throne amongst the legends of rock and roll. They’ve done so, in part, with their incessant touring and political brilliance. But, moreover, they’ve done so by consistently producing dynamic displays of musicianship for over 22 years and 9 albums. Here are the top 5 of said albums, which, I believe exemplify their abilities, highlighting their intensity, their versatility, and the intelligence that decorates both the lyrics and music alike.

5 Riot Act

Although they seem to have smoothed the edges a bit from past ventures, this album is anything but soft. Dynamic in it’s own right, this album provides everything a fan could want. From the ambience and lucidity of the opening “Can’t Keep,” so enticingly sweet and lulling, to the immediately rousing “Save You,” fast and heavy, and perfect for the pit. From there, this album unfolds in a very organic nature and keeps a particularly “Get Right” feel. It is easy to recognize the sincerity Eddie Vedder purveys on the thoughtfully worded “I Am Me,” but equally so in the delicate and wordless vocals of “Arc.” Of course, I wouldn’t be being true to myself if I didn’t note the blues-rock-beauty of my personal favorite “½ Full.”

4 Backspacer

Their most recent production certainly does not disappoint. They’re killing it. After two decades of performance, the first half of this album implies, with its aggression and potency, they’d like to continue watching youthful mosh pits. “Just Breathe” makes its entrance in time to cool things off and make way for a sequence of comfortably steady tracks leading to the pertinently titled “Supersonic.” Things do cool down a bit again, but segue appropriately into “The End” with its tenderness and clement. If you are not moved by now, I’m afraid you are not going to be.

3 No Code

A display of self-exploration and discovery, No Code will eclipse linear perspective, and usher the audience to a new realm of appreciation by mixing the energy of yesteryear (pre-Vitology) in songs like “Hail Hail” and “Habit,” with the playfulness of “Who Are You” and experimentation of “I’m Open.” Listen for McReady and Gossard showcasing their prowess on “Red Mosquito” and if you have to search for good examples of Ament on any album, especially this one, your bass is turned to 0. Turn it up!

2 Ten

Call me crazy for placing in the second position an album that went Diamond in the U.S. alone. (Diamond… not Platinum… Diamond. We’re talking 13 million sold and counting) Here they boast a track list so familiar that any first world English speaking person, past their early twenties, actually participating in society and not hidden away in some bush or the proverbial rock dwelling, will be able to sing along. If I have to discuss songs like “Once,” “Even Flow,” “Alive,” or “Jeremy,” by all means, please, I invite you from your bush. So, am I crazy? No. Albeit by a hair, Vs. still claims the #1 spot.

1 Vs.

This album provides a perfect balance between the refinements of experience found in the crispness of “Dissident” with the unrefined vigor of youth in the alarming “Animal.” What’s more, you can hear the two uniting in an uncanny display of rebellion in “Daughter,” articulation in “Glorified G,” and raw determination in “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town.” This album is Pearl Jam against the world, with the exception, of course, for their fans; welcome to wage war beside them.

There are obvious reasons they’ve withstood the test of time. Reasons they’ve outshined their contemporaries, surpassing juvenescence, maintaining integrity and shepherding a new era of virtuosity. Those reasons are best displayed within these, what I consider to be, the Top 5 Pearl Jam albums of all time. I am only one fan though, so hey… Let me know what you think. YOU! Yes, you, but don’t be too wordy, that’s our job.

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