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Pearl Jam
Ten (Reissue) Mark Eglinton , March 30th, 2009 09:43

Back in 1992 the music industry was starting to resemble a scene from 28 Days Later. The previously dominant key protagonists were to be found in some dark sub-basement in fear of a mutant-creating virus. That virus was grunge, and for a while there simply was no antidote. At least half the reason for this musical genocide (conducted against the cowering hair metal masses) was Seattle's Pearl Jam, and this was their first and finest hour.

The release of Ten was initially greeted with the kind of enthusiasm normally reserved for an obscure and rather stubborn genital rash, particularly by fellow grungsters who deemed it a commercial sell-out. But as the movement gathered steam, before long Ten was the sound of every spotty nihilist schoolboy's bedroom and, crucially, his dad's car stereo too.

Seventeen years and twelve million unit sales later somebody at Sony has decided that we need to hear it all again in re-mastered form, and with a raft of extra material on several different formats. But does this record, when taken out of its original context, actually amount to much of anything? The answer to that is a resounding 'kind of'.

Let's just make one thing clear, though. Grunge was not anything new. It was just alternative rock as we always knew it and that had been kicking around for donkey's years anyway. If we're going strictly by definition, being 'grungy' just means being dirty and that's hardly a new concept, is it? In fact you could name a load of bands pre 1992 who positively made a living out of it. The music itself was nothing new either; anthemic rock with 'I'm a loser and the world hates me but I like it' type lyrics.

So what was all the fuss about? In one word: timing. Pearl Jam's Ten was the right stuff at the right time, and it had some half-decent tunes. But in reality, it was nothing more than a perfectly good rock record that, like a welcome tax rebate, just happened to come at the right time.

Given that Brendan O'Brien was behind the desk on the original incarnation of Ten it's hard not to ask whether the album really needed remastering for this reissue. Apparently the aim of the remix was to make the original recording more direct, but it doesn't work. To my ears it's an unusual case of 'more is less', and the original should have been left alone.

But does the package manage to redeem itself with the bonus material? It's intelligently selected featuring unreleased tracks and live interpretations which serve to enhance put the original further into some kind of context. What we get here then is an impressive array of hard-to-find material including a previously unreleased 1992 MTV unplugged concert, a three-track demo with original vocal overdubs, a recording of the band's 1992 Drop In The Park concert and bits and pieces of memorabilia, including a notebook.

This is all welcome, but unfortunately the album remaster doesn't justify such a lavish rebirth. The tracks that made Ten a good alternative rock record (opener 'Once', the singles 'Jeremy' and 'Even Flow' and more understated highpoints like 'Black' or 'Garden') are not enhanced by the remixing process. It all seems a bit forced, a bit dutiful – and in a very corporate way, which recalls much of the the criticism initially levelled at Pearl Jam. Arguably, the thinking behind his new release does nothing to dispel that gripe. Ten is a fine record very much of its era, but ultimately hardly worthy of this falsely elevated status.

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