Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No. 207: Ten

Band: Pearl Jam
Album: Ten
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The second-biggest "grunge" album isn't really that much of a grunge album at all -- at least in the Sub Pop Black Sabbath/Flag ethos -- but nevertheless helped usher in the Seattle scene into the mainstream. Pearl Jam is socially conscious and referential towards the classic rock that was gaining steam as Boomers passed on their tastes to their kids. In essence, "Ten" is an instant classic rock album.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: "Ten" doesn't really push any borders; It's straight ahead rock and roll while wearing a flannel shirt and Dr. Martens.
Best song: The more I read about "Alive," the more I'm totally creeped out by it. Still, it and "Evenflow" are pretty great rock songs.
Worst song: "Release" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

Here's something that surprised the hell out of me: "Ten" has sold five million more copies than "Nevermind." That's just wrong.


There's a baseball player named Manny Ramirez; He's kind of a folk hero to many. He's at a disadvantage with the American media because English is his second language (he moved to New York from the Dominican Republic when he was in high school); Most Latin players are looked at by the unilingual sports media as uncooperative.

Anyway, Ramirez is something of a man-child in his way of doing everything other than hitting. He's not an expert fielder; In fact, he can be something of a disaster in non-Fenway stadia. Before an elimination playoff game recently, he basically told the media "hey, there's always next year if we don't win" and many media members took that to mean he didn't care enough.

(In a more destructive way, he also is quite the showboat when he hits home runs. He will pimp his trot when he hits one long and he certainly will stand in the box for a second -- or five -- after he hits a long fly to admire it. This backfired recently when he hit one out and the ump mistakenly called it in play [it bounced off a railing in back of the fence and bounced back into play]. Ramirez ended up with a single when he could've easily had a double. This made the anti-Ramirez types go nuts.)

Generally, he's looked at as something of a ditz (or the male equivalent, I guess). He's absent minded; He once ducked into the left field Fenway scoreboard/wall to urinate during a pitching change. He wears a uniform originally fitted for a much fatter teammate (Rich Garces), and consequently looks a little clownish.

Anyway, Ramirez is really divisive. A ton of people hate Ramirez because he "doesn't deserve to win shit" (that's the words of a friend of mine) when he doesn't hustle out fly balls or he showboats too much after a homer that meant, mostly, nothing (like when he recently hit a solo homer in a game the REd Sox were losting 7-2). These people point to his defense and say he doesn't care and they call him things like "lazy" or, in more mean-spirited terms, "stupid."

Leading this charge is Tim McCarver, the lead analyst on Fox' baseball broadcasts. In nearly every game, he takes pains to rip Ramirez' attitude. He'll sometimes compliment Ramirez on his hitting -- you have to be monumentally ignorant not to acknowledge that he's a great, great hitter -- but mostly just rips him. This, I think, drives some fan hatred towards Ramirez.

On the other side are Red Sox fans and statheads, who adore Ramirez. He's nearly unparalleled as a hitter, constantly among the league leaders in every stat that matters. Even in a down year, he hit .296/.388/.493, a very good line. Watching him in the batters box, you wouldn't know his reputation (well, save for the over sized uni); He's as serious as funeral, eyes locked on the pitcher. In a recent game, he spoiled (fouled off) three straight pitcher's pitches (good strikes that hitters can't drive) at 0-2, though he eventually struck out. No one in the league, save for Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, looks as in-command at the plate, and his stat lines every year reflect that. The man can hit and hitting is the most important thing in baseball.

Anyway, the stat analyst site's lead columnist recently wrote(subscription required) something that I really agree with about Ramirez:

He’s almost a bright-line test for humankind; if you just divided the world into “people who like Manny Ramirez” and “everyone else,” which group would you rather hang out with?

I was thinking about this recently in regards to the grunge frontman heroes of my youth. While a lot of their music is now classic, I don't think I'd ever want to hang out with Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Layne Staley or Eddie Vedder. Listening to "Ten" again really reinforces a though I've always had about about Vedder: "Wow, what a downer."


And for all of its popularity -- I reiterate that it has sold 12 million copies -- "Ten" is a real downer. Two of the three singles are about incest and a fictional school shooting while the next two songs (including a song the label wanted to release as a single) on the record are about being institutionalized and suicide. The record isn't inspirational; It's really depressing. If you asked 100 people in 1993 who they thought was going to kill himself, I'm sure 90 of them would've said Eddie Vedder before they said Kurt Cobain.


People are multi-faceted, certainly. I'm always reminded of this when I think of the two biggest Pearl Jam fans I know. They're both pretty happy go lucky dudes, both exhibit the signs you wouldn't expect from the average Pearl Jam song. They're not super serious, they're not boring and they're both very fun to be around.

It's strange. Sincerity is easy to mock and irony is the flavor of this generation. So, as much as I want to never hang out with any of the members of Pearl Jam, I do have friends that are fans, which is more than I can say about fanatics of Smashing Pumpkins.


(Let me preface what I'm about to write with this: I like this album. It is catchy and it's a pretty standard good rock and roll album. No, it doesn't sound like Seattle as much as, say, "Badmotorfinger" or "Dirt" does. It takes more from the Who and Neil Young than it does from Black Sabbath or any punk band. Still, it's a grand record, full of wailing guitars, some of the tightest drumming you'll ever hear and the passion of a thousand fires in Vedder's voice. Certainly, that it was the biggest record for a year or so, every song is almost second nature to me.)

For all my criticism of the Boomers for their self-involvement, Generation X is equally self-involved. And all you need to back that up is "Ten." The album drips with "why me?" and "my life sucks." It's basically a therapy session for Vedder put on tape. In accepting a VMA for "Jeremy," Vedder was the one who said "If it wasn't for music, I would have shot myself in front of that classroom."

And that's kind of the essence of "Ten." Vedder is unhappy and he wants everyone to know about his unhappiness. It's wildly narcissistic and there isn't much in the way of the outside world in it.

Of course, Pearl Jam is one of the more socially active bands out there, so that narcissism has ceased, to a large degree. Still, "Ten" stinks of it and it makes the album all the harder to listen to.


I can't really do Pearl Jam justice. I'm not in love with their sound (again, boring rock and roll) and Vedder annoys me more with every passing year. I admire their political stands and the stuff they do to stand for what they believe (the TicketMaster fiasco was good, for example), but their music just doesn't entice me.

I suggest this Cameron Crowe piece for a good read on the band. It seems a little dated now, but it provides a lot of insight into the band.

For me? I'll stick with Soundgarden, Nirvana and Alice In Chains.

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