Almost 18 years ago I wrote a review of a debut album, titled "Ten," by a new but buzzing Seattle based group called Pearl Jam. I thought it was one of the most remarkable recordings I had heard at the time. Those of us remembering the early '90s know how it went from there-- amongst heated discussions of the meanings of "Ten" as a title and "Pearl Jam" as a band name, the disc and the group pretty much instantly became one of the main forces behind the then over-swelling Grunge movement in Seattle (after Nirvana and along with Alice In Chains and Soundgarden).
Pearl Jam (originally calling themselves "Mookie Blaylock") was formed by bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard in the aftermath of the untimely 1990 heroin overdose of Andrew Wood; the lead vocalist of their second band, Mother Love Bone (their first band was named Green River). Following their one-off project Temple of the Dog with Wood's roommate at the time of his death, (Soundgarden lead singer) Chris Cornell, Ament and Gossard connected with Mike McCready, Dave Krusen and San Diego-based vocalist Eddie Vedder, to form their new band. Epic signed them, and "Ten" was released in August 1991.
Now, here we are 18 years later, and well, I am writing a review of "Ten." The great news going in is that after all these years, after the settling of that Grunge "swell," I (along with many rock enthusiasts) still feel that the disc is one of the "more remarkable"…if no longer "most remarkable"… recordings of my generation's time.
Pearl Jam has released a new version of "Ten," remixed by Brendan O'Brien, one of the most important rock producers of the '90s (Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam to name a few). O'Brien didn't originally produce "Ten" back in 1991, but he came on board for the band's follow-up "VS." and for the four discs which followed. Online or at the store (should you choose to venture out), you get four choices of the reissue depending on how much you want to spend and how many extras you want, ranging from the group's "MTV unplugged" performance on DVD and live shows on vinyl, to demo recordings and assorted replica mementos from the band's past. All of them have the original "Ten" recording along with the new O'Brien remix.
Before I dive into O'Brien's remix (which by the way is not a remix in the DJ sense of the word… no disco beats or anything), I should stop and give the band some props. The "redux" disc also includes six unreleased early recordings, one of which is a "Ten" outtake titled "Brother." On its release last month, "Brother" shot right up to #1 on the modern rock charts, not bad for an "outtake" track recorded 18 years ago!
So first though, does "Ten"… "deserve to be"…re-mixed? I say why not.
And I say this because in my own little world of music, I often listen to my band's first CD recording, and I think, "Man, I wish I could REMIX this… rework that." Pearl Jam has made it a point to stay what can be called "old school," to put the album above the single, as seen in the band's purposeful lack of videos and approach to touring. So I can only imagine being Vedder and the gang, a major act in the rock world, and having their most notable recording NOT sound the way they want. This remix reveals a band that rose from the grunge scene but at the time had more grunge attitude than grunge musical style. Maybe that always bothered Vedder.
O'Brien takes the 11 original songs and clears the water, so to speak, giving them a leaner and cleaner sound. He sharpens the right parts, separates the instruments, at times leaving behind the wall of muddy sound, often called "grunge." Whether good or bad, he basically updates the recording to sound better with today's listening sources and formats (MP3s…iPods, computers, etc.). What he does not do is dig in there and change the overall sound or emotion… the original record's feeling and space. Basically—good news, he doesn't f-ck it up.
You can hear the better separation and cleaner sound right from the get go, with "Once" and "Even Flow." But it's the third track — the now classic "Alive" — where you can really hear a remarkable difference. It's right away with the opening guitars, which have a much hotter sound. And even though they are up in the mix, the new separation allows for the softer second guitars to stay ever present. The same goes with "Why Go," where you can really hear the cleaner, more cutting drums. However here, on a down side I would say, you also do hear a tad more "computer" and little less of the "room" in the overall drum sound . "Black" has a more raw sound in which Vedder comes across even more like he is singing in your living room, if that is possible. Interestingly enough, on "Jeremy," O'Brien tones down the memorable harmonic notes that set the song in motion.
"Oceans" again pushes Vedder's vocals. At the top of the track, you can now really hear that he is right up on the mic. And for this song, especially, the cleaner separation seems to open up all the different rhythms and percussion going on. "Porch" sounds crazier than ever, with Jeff Ament's bass benefiting nicely from the new mix. "Garden" and "Deep" continue the overall trend. And finally "Release," always one of Vedder's best vocal performances, really rises here…with all the musical tones and mood coming through much more, in the same fashion as "Oceans." Interestingly enough, this is the one track that is actually at a different length than the original, at nine seconds shorter. I would love to know why O'Brien felt he needed to lose nine seconds.
Still, as a whole this remix works and makes you love "Ten" all over again. And thanks to O'Brien's remix and the attention brought back to "Ten" since its original release, we know one thing for sure — after 18 years, Pearl Jam's "Ten" is still triumphantly, alive.
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