I’ve always felt that your taste in music is just as defined by the bands you don’t listen to, than by the bands you do listen to, and there was no way in hell I was ever going to listen to Pearl Jam.
My reasons were many: their annoying music wasn’t my cup of tea, I had a big problem with their pretty-boy front-man Eddie Vedder and his stupid voice, and their uniform of shorts, boots and flannel shirts not only made the band look idiots, but made their fans looks like hordes of butch lesbians. There was another reason I disliked them…but I seem to have forgotten it over the years…or have I?
I initially disliked all grunge music – or let’s call it alternative rock from Seattle (because the word ‘grunge’ is pretty pointless, isn’t it?) – but repeated exposure to Smells Like Teen Spirit turned me into an reluctant Nirvana fan. Nirvana spoke to the Aerosmith / Sabbath / Zeppelin fan in me, and so I soon became a huge fan. But I just couldn’t be moved on Pearl Jam. In fact, the early rivalry between the two bands probably put me off Pearl Jam even more.
Over the years I’ve always felt the same. I think I’ve even been to festivals where Pearl Jam have been playing, and I’ve simply ignored them. Why would I bother, right? (Although, there was that time I saw Oasis play at Glastonbury simply to see how bad they were – and my distain for Pearl Jam is nothing compared to the love lost between me and Oasis. That’s a whole other story.)
I think the only thing they had done over the years that impressed me was their stance against Ticketmaster in the mid-‘90s. More bands should do things like that – but as far as I know, Ticketmaster still have a huge dominance of the ticket industry so I’m not sure what permanent good their boycott did. In New Zealand at least, ticket sales are pretty much a duopoly between Ticketmaster and Ticketek, and the two companies are just as bad as each other, charging non-sensical booking fees on top of what are already rapidly increasing ticket prices.
I also felt very sorry for Pearl Jam for what happened at the Roskilde festival in 2000. It always sucks big time when fans die at festivals (or any kind of shows for that matter), and it must really affect the band who are playing at the time. Nobody gets into music to die at a concert, and nobody gets into playing music to kill people, otherwise you’re somebody like Nicki Minaj – very slowly making your audience dumber and dumber until they start walking into oncoming traffic with vacant smiles on their faces.
Fast forward twenty years and I eventually catch Cameron Crowe’s documentary, Pearl Jam Twenty, on TV. New Zealand television isn’t great so I always catch music documentaries whenever they’re on, even if I don’t like the band too much. I really enjoyed Twenty, despite my feelings for Pearl Jam. By the end of the film, my staunch attitude to them had started to thaw.
I saw the film a second time a couple of months ago, and enjoyed it just as much, if not more. Oh no, I was turning into a Pearl Jam fan…
I’ve only heard their first three albums so far (Ten is far too poppy, Vs. is excellent and Vitalogy sounds far too much like a band slowly going off the rails – Rolling Stone were right on the money in describing them in 2006 as having “spent much of the past decade deliberately tearing apart their own fame.”).
The band seems to have an issue with Ten sounding far too commercial, blaming the high levels of reverb used. Even though the remixed version of the album goes some way to address this (I have the double vinyl copy which has the original album and the 2009 Redux version), it still sounds way too poppy. I don’t think this is down to the production that much – it’s just that there’s a batch of popular songs on the album that are very well-written, with great, strong melodies.
In retrospect, I actually now think that I liked the wrong grunge band in the early ‘90s. Nirvana have a handful of great songs, and one great album (no, In Utero you fools!), but they’re essentially a punk band and as usual that means their guitarist hides behind a range of distortion pedals to compensate for a lack of ability. Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready is a demon on the guitar – a total Hendrix freak – and really I should have been listening to him, not Cobain, when I was learning to play.
And I still think Eddie Vedder is a bit of a douche. There’s a really cringewrothy moment in Twenty where he recounts singing his vocals (for the demo tape that got him into the band) just after a surf with the sand still on his feet. Ugh (although again, my feelings for him have thawed due to his support of the West Memphis Three). His constant whining throughout Twenty about being too famous is one of the least enjoyable aspects of the film. They seem to be doing everything they can these days to avoid sounding too commercial, but there’s still the odd song (like Daughter from Vs., or Better Man from Vitalogy) that makes me think if you don’t want to appeal to a pop audience, stop fucking writing songs that will appeal to them!
Ten does sound pretty dated now. I still don’t like the fact that the song titles are mostly single words – like they were paying by the word for the printing of the sleeve. Thankfully the horrible hue of pink / crimson / vomit on the cover has been replaced by a much less offensive beige for the Redux re-release, and I guess I can just ignore what the band are wearing on the cover.
It’s funny that when I first encountered the band, I was really annoyed with Mike McCready’s clothes – a duster coat and a hat just like Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. Now, I admire him for wearing that get-up while the rest of the band wore their butch lesbian-inspired uniform.
Some time after I watched Twenty for the second time, and finally admitted that yes, I was a Pearl Jam fan, I watched a couple of their early music videos. Eventually I stumbled on that last remaining reason why I had such a passion to dislike them back in the early ‘90s – the video to Even Flow! This opens on Vedder telling his lighting man to turn the stage lights off, shouting like a spoilt child. I still recoil when I think about it.
So, there you have it. I may be twenty years too late, but better late than never. And there’s still no way I’ll ever change my mind about fucking Green Day. That band really are the scourge of the universe.
Hidden Gem: Release