Pearl Jam's albums encompass the evolution of the band from grunge to a harder rock sound that never shies away from experimentation. While the band has never really seemed to care about things like sales and chart positions, their albums continue to sell in high volume, proving they weren't just a flash in the pan during the grunge movement of the 1990s.
All of Pearl Jam's albums feature Eddie Vedder's distinctive voice and the band's unique sound, though there is a noticeable progress as the albums are heard in order. As the grunge scene slowly faded into the distance, Pearl Jam became one of the few bands that could change and adapt, and has continued to bring in new audiences.
Pearl Jam's first album, Ten, rocketed them onto the music charts. It was still near the beginning of the grunge music phenomenon, when bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden were making a big splash. The album was on the Billboard chart for a whopping two years, and has become one of the biggest selling records of all time in its genre.
Ten has an edgier, more rock-like sound than most of the grunge music recorded at the time. Thematically the album is very dark, dealing with subjects like loneliness, depression and suicide. Charting singles included:
- Even Flow
Vs. was the bands' next effort, and it debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. The album sold spectacularly well and the singles received plenty of air play, but Pearl Jam started pulling back on their promotional efforts, refusing to release music videos for any of the singles because they believed videos interfered with listeners' experiences of the songs.
The sound of Vs. is raw and intense, rather like a live show. The songs feature a lyrical mix of personal and social issues. Hit singles from this release were:
- Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Pearl Jam's third studio album, Vitalogy, became the second-fastest selling CD in history at the time during its first week of release. Though the album got mixed reviews from critics as a result of its widely diverse and often experimental sound, it was ultimately included on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, coming in at number 485.
It offers an eclectic blend of styles from punk-influenced rock to songs that rock so hard they border on thrash. Spin the Black Circle, the lead single, won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance. Other singles that charted include:
- Better Man
No Code (1996)
No Code, Pearl Jam's follow up to Vitalogy, enjoyed a strong debut at number one on the Billboard 200, but it sold less than their previous albums and soon fell off the charts, largely because Pearl Jam kept scaling back promotion. Reception for the album from both fans and critics was mixed. The title of the album, according to a critic from Rolling Stone, seemed indicative of its no-rules attitude and the band's drive toward musical experimentation.
Musically, No Code was a departure from anything Pearl Jam had put out before. It combined balladry with garage rock. Singles from the album that charted were:
- Who You Are
- Hail, Hail
- Off He Goes
Yield marked a return to Pearl Jam's straightforward, hard rocking sound. Pearl Jam also ramped up promotional efforts in the wake of the album's release. It debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, and while it didn't stay on the charts very long, it did eventually outsell No Code, earning a Platinum certification from the RIAA.
Compared to Pearl Jam's previous albums, Yield represented a more collaborative effort with regard to songwriting. Frontman Eddie Vedder encouraged the other members of the band help him come up with developed ideas for songs. Charting singles from Yield include:
- Given to Fly
Binaural gets its name from a special microphone that Pearl Jam brought in to use for recording the album. The title sets the tone for a collection of songs in which musical experimentation rules the day.
The sound is eclectic and at times psychedelic, a significant shift from the grunge style that made Pearl Jam famous. Singles from the album that charted are:
- Nothing as it Seems
- Light Years
Riot Act (2002)
Pearl Jam's seventh studio album, Riot Act, was inspired by the grim political climate following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, as well as a terrible accident that occurred while the band was playing at the Roskilde Music Festival in Denmark. Fans rushed the stage to get closer to the band, and in the confusion nine people were trampled to death and many others injured. Through the album the band sought to convey their passion for the importance of making a difference in the world through love.
Riot Act's sound is a fusion of Pearl Jam's two loves: hard rock and experimentation. Critical response tended to be favorable, with reviewers citing an excellent balance between lyrical depth and a hard rocking attitude. Charting singles from this album include:
- I Am Mine
- Save You
- Loveboat Captain
Pearl Jam (2006)
Pearl Jam, a self-titled album, was marked by a return to the band's original sound, and Pearl Jam continued to ramp promotional efforts back up, including a world tour whose proceeds they donated to organizations working to offset climate change. The album did well with both critics and fans and outsold their previous record.
The style of Pearl Jam is stripped down, aggressive rock, and Eddie Vedder said he believed the album represented the best and hardest music the band had ever made. Singles from the album that charted were:
- World Wide Suicide
- Life Wasted
Pearl Jam released Backspacer as their ninth studio album, which was their first record since No Code to debut at number one on the Billboard 200. It was also the first album released on their own record label, Monkeywrench Records.
Never a band to stop experimenting, Pearl Jam infused Backspacer with influences that range from pop to new wave. Critics and fans alike were enthusiastic about the freshness and tightness of the band's sound, and Backspacer was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album. Charting singles from the album include:
- The Fixer
- Just Breathe
In addition to their nine studio recordings, Pearl Jam has also released eight live albums, though some of them were only made available to limited audiences:
- Live on Two Legs (1998)
- Live at Benaroya Hall (2004)
- Live in NYC (2006, only available to fan club members)
- Live at Easy Street (2006, available only through independent record stores)
- Live at the Gorge (2006, 7-disc box set)
- Live at Lollapalooza (2007)
- 9.11.2011 (2011, digital download only through Google Music)
- Live on Ten Legs (2011)
Re-releases of Albums
Pearl Jam re-released studio albums with extra tracks and digitally enhanced sound, leading up to their 20th anniversary in 2011. The first re-release was Ten, which came out in four different editions in spring 2009. The entire album was also made available as downloadable content on the Rock Band video game.
The next re-releases were Vs. and Vitalogy, appearing in spring 2011. All the re-releases come with remastered songs, DVDs, new packaging, and other extras.
About Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam formed in Seattle, Washington in 1990. The band consists of:
- Eddie Vedder (lead vocals and guitar)
- Jeff Ament (bass)
- Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar)
- Mike McCready (lead guitar)
- Matt Cameron (drums)
Ament and Gossard were both members of the group Mother Love Bone, which dissolved in 1990 after the death of their lead singer, Andrew Wood, from a heroin overdose.
After writing some new material, the pair set out to create a new band. Vedder heard the demo tape of the new songs, and recorded his own vocals for them and sent the tape back to Ament and Gossard. He became the lead singer for Pearl Jam, though the band called themselves Mookie Blaylock, after the basketball player.
The name change to Pearl Jam came when the band was signed and producers were worried about copyright issues.
The Future of Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam has continued to push their sound and shows no signs of slowing down. With extensive tours, more re-releases, and new material coming along, it's certain that Pearl Jam has a great deal more to offer.