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Class ?

Main Category: Punk/Grunge
Also applicable: Hard Rock
Starting Period: From Grunge To The Present Day
Also active in: --------



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TEN ***

Year Of Release: 1991

First impression after listening to the album: "And they call it grunge? It's fuckin' Bad Company meets Journey, man!"

Fifty-first impression after listening to the album: "You know, this is not such a steamin' pile of manure as it once seemed to be. At least, something grows in it!"

Seriously now, I'm far from the first person to note that Pearl Jam were such a smash success not because they were a grunge clone of Nirvana, but because they merged a grungey approach with yer basic classic rock stuff. They have a lead guitar player who actually knows how to play - and not only that, but he does play long wanky solos with a Seventies' hard-rock flavor to them. They have a lead vocalist who screams only occasionally, otherwise sounding like he's a huge fan of Paul Rogers. They have long riff-based songs that certainly pander to Neil Young's style (otherwise Mr Better To Burn Out wouldn't have played with them on Mirror Ball) but never really abuse distortion and, whatchamacallit, that "ugliness".

So what's so grunge-like about Ten, minus the fact that everybody bar the singer was from Seattle? Well, the lyrics are pretty dark and angsty, full of all kinds of nasty, pessimistic, despairing character descriptions and all. The vocal delivery is this slurry honest down-to-Earth cry-from-the-soul that the guy from Nickelback does too, but we're not talking technicalities here. The production is kinda cheap and muddy, which also qualifies. So, in other words, if by saying "grunge" you mean "loud jarring sincere-sounding rock music from the early Nineties", Ten qualifies; if you're going by a more specific "punk-meets-Black-Sabbath" definition, then I guess Pearl Jam and Nirvana belong in different camps. Then again, nobody really cares as long as you do understand what the difference between Nirvana and Pearl Jam really was in 1991.

Anyway, this here album is really boring. To tell the truth, the perspective of "updating Seventies' rock for the Nineties" never inspired much of an emotional response within me. Not in such a monotonous way, at least. But, as usual, "the first gets the props", and at least Ten offers some decent tunes. Nowadays, an album like that probably would only annoy me on a major level - geez, it's regular MTV style. But at least these guys a) knew their instruments, b) knew how to put together a decent lyric, c) knew how to throw in a few hooks here and there. Hooks which actually sunk inside me, believe it or not, although it took ages to feel their power. And don't blame me - when you go through an album that gets five stars from the All-Music Guide and all you get is a set of unmemorable guitar riffs, wanky solos and a supposedly toothless guy going "blah blah blah wheee blah blah blah blah haaarggh blah blah blah" in a nasal, whiney, never changing tone through all of its eleven songs (Ten my ass), you're not exactly the happiest person on earth.

Lucky for me I can be patient. And then, at some point, suddenly hoopla, and you start actually recognizing one song from another and you start feeling some actual spiritual power in some of the songs (aka "emotional hooks"). They're mostly in the choruses (the verses I still can't tell from one another even after all those sleepless nights), but they're good! "Once upon a time I could control myself, once upon a time I could lose myself". Or: 'I'm, I'm still alive!' Actually, listening to stuff like 'Alive' makes me understand why Eddie Vedder has so often been taken for the Bruce Springsteen of his generation. Or, on a smaller scale, for the Ronnie Van Zandt of his generation (not that there's that much difference between the two - they just happen to speak for different area codes!). This pathos-drenched soulfulness, this B-I-G spiritual drama that Vedder plays out in songs like these can be thrilling for some and, in a major way, annoying for the others.

But I can't even make out the lyrics too well, so why should I care? Besides, 'Alive' isn't even my favourite. This would either be the funky 'Why Go', with one of the best basslines these guys ever invented and a great wall-of-sound moving in and out of focus when necessary; or maybe the dark near-Goth bitterness of the slow pseudo-power-ballad "Black" ("pseudo", because these guys are too angry and sardonic in their approach to really waste time on "ballads", for now, at least); or maybe the stately "school epic" "Jeremy", with the 'Jeremy spoke in class today' line pronounced in a near-Biblical way.

Fuck the rest of it. It never gets annoying, but it never gets "review-prone" either. If you like these songs, you'll probably like the rest. Sorry if I don't give this towering classic of modern rock a higher score, but what can I do about it? It verges on bad. It's good that verges on bad, to me at least, and I can hardly view this any other way. See, the closer you get to generic MTV posturing, the more probable you are to sound like generic MTV posturing. And that's a hard motherfuckin' fact of life, to quote a classic.


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