Music Features

Used Adventures In Hi-Fi #3

Pearl Jam: Ten (Epping, Imperial Cancer Research, £1)

As I sit on the underground on the way to my desk job, wearing some sort of brown, velvet-effect jacket, reading a book about Wittgenstein and Popper, listening to Pearl Jam, it occurs to me that at times, I'm the whitest person I know. Not generally being given to sweeping generalisations (ahem) I understand the flaws in this perspective, but there seems something so inherently caucasian about the metal-edged grunge of Vedder's boys that brings to mind scores of Bill & Ted-esque images of long and lank-haired teenagers thrashing through their Excellent chops. I find myself fitting a stereotype, quite by accident.

However, being below a certain age, I narrowly missed grunge and instead fell somewhat sidelong into the dubious charms of Britpop, skirting around nu-metal and towards the Seattle scene's LA based successors: Rancid, NoFX and the like. So it's with a sense of curiosity, rather than genuine experiential nostalgia, that I get the occasional hankering for songs like Jeremy or Alive. Epping Imperial Cancer Research offers up an unmissable price of One English Pound for Ten, so I prepare to wallow in my rediscovered teenage angst, all over again.

Ten actually opens in a gentle manner, an atmospheric sound that wouldn't be out of place on a more modern record, an ambient, electronic sort of sound. But then Once bursts into a hail of widdly guitar licks and riffs; Mike McCready's metal chops coming to the fore against a battery of drums recorded with a sound akin to this writer's own A-level music project. Then Eddie Vedder starts up his wailing, and we know we're in cliché country.

But the lovely thing is, when a style of music is at the beginning of its ouevre, there is no cliché, because while Pearl Jam's sound (like that of Nirvana, or Soundgarden, or Mudhoney, or anyone) is a rehash of things that have gone before, there's a effervescent, blossoming energy in the sound that enables the record to transcend the scorn that is rightly due to bands like Creed or Nickelback, and bask in the Dulux glow of their achievement. Because, stripping aside the dated production, the histrionic vocals and guitar licks, the general amusement factor of grunge, this is a great rock record, a flurry of excellent songs, delivered with passion and meaning. The great thing about Pearl Jam and contemporaries as diverse as REM or even Rage Against The Machine (can you believe their debut was 1992?) is that they're not obvious: Pearl Jam write about childhood suicide and missing fathers, homelessness, even surfing. Nirvana cornered the market on anguished catharsis, Soundgarden psyched it up, but Pearl Jam were the songsmiths, and Ten delivers a cracking blast of 1991, whether you're feeling nostalgic or just require a little intelligent rocking out. And for a single shiny pound, you can't ask for much more than that.