Album Review: Pearl Jam – “Ten”

Pearl Jam released their debut album, Ten, on August 27, 1991. While the album wasn’t an immediate success upon its release, it eventually peaked at number two on the Billboard 200 album chart by the end of 1992. Ten has been certified diamond by the RIAA in the United States, selling over 9,800,000 copies. My husband and I own the European pressing of Ten, which includes three bonus tracks not available on the U.S. pressing. This review will include these three bonus tracks.

Ten opens with “Once”; technically, it actually opens with a brief interlude of “Master/Slave,” which is a hidden track on the album. Once this interlude ends, the song quickly becomes a rather intense number. Lyrically, the song is about a man’s descent into madness; at the end, the character in the song becomes a serial killer. The next song is “Even Flow,” which was released as the second single from Ten. Lyrically, the song is about a homeless man. Musically, the song features a “funky” guitar riff.

The next song on Ten is “Alive,” which was released as the lead-off single for the album. There is an extended guitar solo after the third chorus, which Mike McCready has said is based off of Ace Frehley’s solo on “She”; musically, the song also features influences from Jimi Hendrix. Lyrically, the song is about a young man who learns his father is actually his stepfather, while his mother’s grief leads her into an incestuous relationship with her son. Admittedly, when I was younger, I thought there was a slightly different meaning to the song. Even knowing what I know now about it, I still do enjoy “Alive.”

Next is “Why Go,” which has a heavier sound than the songs that previously appeared on the album. Lyrically, the song is about a girl who has been diagnosed with something and is being kept somewhere instead of being able to go home. This is followed by “Black.” Even though the label wanted to officially release it as a single, the band refused; however, it did receive some airplay on the radio at the time. Lyrically, the song is about a broken-hearted man remembering his lover who has left him. Musically, it’s one of the slowest songs on Ten.

“Jeremy” was released as the third single from the album. The song tells the story of a boy who is being neglected by his parents and is troubled and suicidal. The song gained notoriety from the music video that accompanied the song. Personally, “Jeremy” is my favorite song on Ten. This is followed by “Oceans,” which was released as the fourth single from the album. The song was inspired by Eddie Vedder’s love for surfing. Musically, it’s slower than much of the other material on Ten, but it’s not as slow as “Black.”

Next is “Porch,” which picks the pace of the album back up. It has been said that the song is about telling someone that you love them. “Garden” slows the tempo of the album back down; however, the tempo increases as the song goes along. Lyrically, it seems to be about a man conflicted about a relationship he is in. “Deep” is more uptempo musically. Lyrically, the two verses tell a story about two different characters. The first character doesn’t seem to mind the situation he’s in, but the second character doesn’t like what’s happening to her.

“Release” is the last song listed on the U.S. pressing of the album. This song is another downtempo track, but it has the perfect sound for a song to close an album. Lyrically, the speaker is asking his father if he sees what the speaker has become. After the song ends, there is roughly fifteen seconds of silence before the hidden song, “Master/Slave” starts. The song is almost four minutes in length. It’s a rather laid back number, with very little in the way of any vocals. When you hear this, you can understand why this was a hidden track instead of being included as part of the actual album. The song really doesn’t go much of anywhere.

The European release adds on three bonus tracks. The first is a live recording of “Alive,” which was recorded at RKCNDY in Seattle, Washington on August 3, 1991. What I appreciate with this live recording is that includes some crowd noise, even if it his hidden a little bit in the background. However, when you hear this, you can tell it was recorded live at a concert and not in a studio. This is followed by “Wash,” which is a song with a slower tempo. This pressing of the album closes with “Dirty Frank,” which has a kind of “funky” sound to it. Lyrically, the song is about a serial killer named Dirty Frank Dahmer who keeps cupboards stocked with human corpses.

After listening to Ten, it’s easy to hear how this ended up becoming one of the essential rock albums to come out in the early 1990s. Musically, the album flows together rather nicely. Lyrically, the songs touched on topics and ideas that resonated with not only young people at that time, but can still resonate with young people today. If you want to introduce someone to Pearl Jam’s music, I would definitely recommend starting off by playing song from the Ten album.


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