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Discography Guide: Pearl Jam

by Brandon Carson The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board. Pearl Jam are undoubtedly one of the biggest rock bands out of the 90s along with Nirvana, Soundgarden, and of course, Alice In Chains. They’ve been through it all: fame, fatigue, tragedy, just about everything a popular band has to endure. They are truly a veteran band with an extensive discography on their back. In this guide I will cover the studio albums and mention the live albums as well. However, if you’re a Pearl Jam fan, then you know that listening to their extensive collection of live bootlegs that they make themselves is the true way to listen to the band. In this discography guide, I will be talking about the band’s five most important albums. Fortunately for Pearl Jam, their first album is their most acclaimed and most appreciated.

Ten (1991)

Image from Amazon
The year is 1991. The Seattle grunge scene is starting to explode over the country, and no one is expecting it. But when most people think grunge, they think of Nirvana’s Nevermind, arguably one of the most important albums in rock history. But what most people don’t know is that Ten was recorded and released before Nevermind. However, both albums are extremely vital to bringing alternative rock to the mainstream. In 1992, both of these albums were everywhere, especially Ten. With singles such as “Even Flow”, “Jeremy”, “Alive,” and “Black”, Pearl Jam couldn’t escape the radio, and still can’t to this day! This is the album that I would recommend to any newcomers to Pearl Jam’s music. McCready is truly a genius while he plays guitar. His solos feel fresh and exciting. The riffs on this album are memorable and hit hard, especially in the songs “Deep”, “Why Go” and “Even Flow”. However, I find that the truly special track on this album is “Release”. It is the last song on the record and contains very heartfelt lyrics with an incredible vocal performance from Eddie Vedder. In fact, the lyrics were improvised. The song knows how to set a mood and carry it away with its instrumentals, which is found in every song on the album. Without Ten, alternative rock would not have been in the mainstream, and the evolution of rock music would have happened much later. But there is still so much more to come for Pearl Jam…

Best Tracks: Release, Deep, Jeremy

Vs. (1993)

Image from JamBase
How do you follow up a record like Ten? Make another? Don’t? Pearl Jam didn’t do any of that. Instead, they stripped down their sound to a raw unrest, with a soft side. After a long couple of years touring, Pearl Jam was angry, tired, and fed up with everyone. This album was actually going to be called “Five Against One” because that was how they felt at the time. Vs. still holds true to their sound that appears on Ten, but with a few twists. The record starts off with “Go”, an incredibly fast track that could start mosh-pits. The aggression continues with “Animal”, an absolute banger, but is slowed down by “Daughter”, one of their most popular songs. This is what is so fantastic and unique about Vs.; it is given room to breathe throughout the record. Vs. is also full of strange political songs (you’ll find these a lot in the discography) such as “Glorified G” and “W.M.A”. But even though they are strange, they are insanely catchy and fun. Their heaviest song in their discography, “Blood”, appears halfway through the record to get the listener back on their feet, and could also start mosh-pits. But again, the album closes with a soft ballad, “Indifference”, which often closes out live shows. It’s a beautiful track with heartbreaking lyrics questioning how much difference one can actually make. Vs. was also the first Pearl Jam album to be produced by Brenden O’Brien and new drummer Dave Abbruzzese. After selling 950,378 copies after five days of release, Pearl Jam showed no sign of slowing down.

Best Tracks: Leash, Animal, Blood, Rearviewmirror

Vitalogy (1994)

Image from Pearl Jam Wiki
Nearly a year after the incredible Vs. record, Pearl Jam writes and records Vitalogy. This record is another critically acclaimed Pearl Jam album, that even has Pearl Jam haters saying, “I guess this is alright.” The recording for Vitalogy was very different than the previous two. The band was having a very hard time communicating and there were many problems with who made the final decisions. The previous drummer Dave Abbruzzese was fired and replaced by ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons. Brenden O’Brien returned to produce Vitalogy, his second time producing for the band. But what about the music? Well, Vitalogy has what is possibly Pearl Jam’s biggest hit, “Better Man”, which is just a great song that topped the charts, even though it’s about an abusive relationship. At first, Vedder thought the song had too much of a pop sound. But that’s okay because they counter-act that poppy sound with the track “Not for You”, a jagged, yet catchy tune that sounds completely unique on the album, and to the band. It’s about the music industry, but I always took it as a song that divides the people who appreciate the weird and different Pearl Jam (“W.M.A.”), from the hits Pearls Jam (“Alive”), saying it’s not for them. The record gets wild and crazy with songs like “Satan’s Bed”, and “Tremor Christ”, but is balanced out by straightforward jams like “Corduroy” and “Last Exit”. However, it is really the creativity in all of the songs that shines on the record. Not one song sounds the same on this album across all 14 tracks, making the record truly unique in their discography.

Best Tracks: Corduroy, Nothingman, Not for You

No Code (1996)

Image from Consequence of Sound
Besides Pearl Jam fans, this is not the Pearl Jam album anyone remembers. This is No Code, a challenging, fantastic, artsy, underrated gem that did not get a lot of attention. Today, many Pearl Jam fans say that this is their best work, but back when it came out, no one thought that at all. No Code is all over the place. It starts with “Sometimes,” a very quiet track that sounds like it is going to build into this massive opener but doesn’t. It is the first song on this album to subvert expectations. No Code was produced again by Brenden O’Brien, and drums were tracked fully by Jack Irons. The band throws casual fans a bone with “Hail, Hail,” a rocker that you might hear on Vitalogy or Vs., but with a very unstable Eddie Vedder. After “Hail, Hail”, the album is off the rails. “In My Tree” and “Who You Are” use many different instruments and melodies unlike any Pearl Jam song before them, but they flow so well and give the album incredible depth. Like Vitalogy, not one song on this album sounds like the other. What is so amazing about that is that it allows for a unique listen. It allows for twists and turns, ups and downs, many feelings, and many riffs. Another thing to mention is that Gossard actually sings on the song “Mankind”, his voice gives it a Dinosaur Jr. vibe, and the riff feels dark. No Pearl Jam song has sounded like this. In fact, no Pearl Jam album sounds anything like this one. It’s heavy, quiet, sweet, dark, demented, and an overall joy to listen to. However, if you’re new to Pearl Jam, don’t start here. This is an experimental album that takes some time to enjoy. The songs sound weird and different at first, but the more listens it gets, the more you might enjoy it. This is definitely not the most popular Pearl Jam album, but I think it is the most special.

Best Tracks: Habit, Present Tense, Red Mosquito

Yield (1998) 

Image from Ultimate Classic Rock
Back to basics had never felt so good with Yield, the band’s fifth record. The “F-U’s” to Ticketmaster subsided and the aggression came to a halt. O’Brien once again produced the album, giving it a very sweet, yet hard sound unlike the last three records. Yield was the last album to have Irons as the drummer. The music was written in a more relaxed manner, for the band was growing older. But what makes this record so important? It’s full of hits. “Given to Fly” is one of Pearl Jam’s most well-written, well-produced, and best performed songs in their entire discography. The way the song flows is majestic and unlike any other on the record. The best way to listen to the song is live, of course. “Do the Evolution” is a hard, fast, disoriented political track that will make the listener want to dance. The riff is fresh, exciting, and full of life. Also, the pre-chorus is insanely catchy. “Wishlist” does the best job of creating the sweet atmosphere, along with “Faithfull” and “Low Light”. The album is still full of curve-balls, just like the last three records. “Pilate” is a fun little number that throws the listener off balance after “Wishlist”, and “All These Yesterdays” marries the sweet with the strange for a perfect closer to the album. Pearl Jam have never made the same album twice Yield holds true to that. The music is exciting and laid-back, the performances are sharp, and Vedder’s vocals can fill an entire stadium. Yield fits right in with the other great Pearl Jam albums.

What about the other five albums?

After Yield, Pearl Jam went on to create five more albums: Binaural, Riot Act, Pearl Jam (Self-Titled), Backspacer, and Lightning Bolt. These albums have many gems, but they also have many missteps. From Ten to Yield, Pearl Jam were at a peak. Their live shows were selling out, their albums were topping the charts, and rock was still the zeitgeist of the decade. Now, rock music is not the zeitgeist, but Pearl Jam still has a huge number of fans. They still tour, playing a different setlist every show, and they are even recording new music. Pearl Jam is an important band to the music, and the rock community. Hopefully these albums give context to why and provide an excellent music experience. Editor's note: Recommended playlists by the author can be found here and here.
Sources: Genius, Spotify Images: AmazonJamBasePearl Jam WikiConsequence of SoundUltimate Classic Rock Featured Image: Anti Music