Every once in a while, a band comes along and manages to weave itself into the prevailing consciousness of the time, becoming a testament to a certain period. Through words, images, suggestions and actions, it creates an aura around itself which only seems to deepen as the years pass by. The nineties well and truly behind us, now might be a safe occasion to assert that Pearl Jam were undeniably the band of the last decade. Blessed with an unearthly natural aggression, a haunting repertoire of songs and that certain magic that could perhaps be described but never captured, Pearl Jam played through some tumultuous times to emerge with music laden with a profound spiritual resonance. Heart-wrenchingly simple at times, and straddling the strewn paths of modern and vintage rock simultaneously at others, they built up a catalogue of albums that now reads like a story. Each relevant to that moment when it first appeared, and each leaving just that amount of mystery in the air for the next one to lead off with.Now and Ten:Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard unleashed Ten on an unsuspecting public in 1991. Dave Krusen played drums on that album, the first of many to don the mantle of skinsman for the tempestuous Seattle outfit. Ten firmly established the band’s supremacy over the visceral, scathing attack form with songs like Alive, and the classic Evenflow. However, it also made abundantly clear that here were a bunch of guys who weren’t going to settle for the ordinary. Even back then, it was apparent that the resetting of frontiers and the breaking of boundaries would become a Pearl Jam trademark, and it was something they would impart on to their audience as well. The measured emotion of Oceans and the sad lament of Black were a veiled glimpse of what was to come. Pearl Jam followed Ten up with Vs., a memorable endeavour that confirmed the group’s earlier soulful leanings but revealed a previously unheard acoustic soul. The starkness of songs like Daughter and Indifference belied a thorough musical mastery, with Gossard and McCready underplaying their guitars to a nicety. Vs. also gave us Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town, an unforgettable snapshot of isolated desperation. A year after Vs., in 1994, Pearl Jam emerged with arguably their best album to date – Vitalogy. Whimsical, experimental, transcendental – the album was a luscious assault of melody and mayhem. With Vedder showcasing his remarkable lyrical skills, the album strode on the story-like attractiveness of songs like Nothingman and Betterman. However, it was the epic Immortality which was to deliver the proof, if any was needed, that the band were on the verge of some staggering musical discoveries.Turning a bend:No Code, released in 1996, confirmed all previous suspicions. Pearl Jam had well and truly careered off the highway, intent on discovering the romance and mystery of the by lanes. No Code’s music, encased in cryptic packaging, was a baring collection of ethereal mindscapes. The sacredness of Present Tense and the emotional lashings of Smile, together with the gradual burn of In My Tree helped etch No Code indelibly in the hearts of Pearl Jam fans. Next up was Yield, a celebration of life, albeit with a critical eye, and an album brimming with 70s like end-to-end perfection. It was much more of a group effort this time around, with Ament penning the wistful Low Light, and McCready running riot on Brain Of J., and then mesmerizing with Given To Fly. The story, and subsequently, the journey – was beginning to become much clearer now. The band were enjoying the music they were creating, and that joy was encapsulated in a little gem called Live On Two Legs – an album culled from the band’s 1998 tour and an album exhibiting a certain Mike McCready’s guitar skills to the fullest. Their last studio effort was Binaural, a calculated collection of melodic ditties and outpourings. It found the band in fine form, playing off each other in a manner which suggested they’d reached a new comfort level. The stand out track from that album remains the soaringly tragic Sleight Of Hand.Keep on rockin’ in the free world:Neil Young once said about Pearl Jam, that their greatness lay in knowing when not to play – in caressing the spaces between the music and allowing imagination to play a big part in giving a particular song a life of its own. This gift of theirs has become even more audible as they’ve come into the second decade of their existence. Strengthened immeasurably by the presence of Matt Cameron on drums, there’s a palpable freedom to the musical interaction between all five members. Pearl Jam’s new album is slated for release around the third week of November. It promises to be a historic affair, and in more ways than one, since it will be their final studio album for the Epic label. The band members have hinted that they will be exploring more experimental routes, both in the music they create and the ways in which they choose to distribute that music. Stories of Pearl Jam’s anti – music establishment escapades are already legendary, with them even taking the unprecedented step of releasing official bootlegs gathered from all the live shows during their last tour. With a history of rock radicalism behind them, perhaps the ensuing years will see them embracing the avenue of independent releases. Looking back now, there is a satisfying harmony between all the albums which comprise the Pearl Jam 90s legacy. Take away one album from between, and the rest just don’t fall into place any longer. There’s little doubt that this new album will contain its fair share of musical detours, surprising even the most die-hard Pearl Jam fanatic in the bargain. What remains certain too, is that no matter how strange and eventful the journey’s been so far, Pearl Jam will continue to challenge the road as the future unfolds.
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