Enough has been written about the phenomena that Seattle bands have popularized this past year. Now that the flannel has stopped flying and the hooplah died down, most of the bands that capitalized on hailing from that grunge mecca have now crawled back into the second-rate clubs from whence they came.
Pearl Jam was the best and brightest of the bands to emerge from the hinterlands, and one of the few to have lasted out the year. This can be attributed to the fact that Pearl Jam has not limited itself to the mix of heavy metal and alternative sounds that crossed musical barriers to make grunge so popular in the first place. On its second album, Pearl Jam, while still rife with the guitar laden distortions that are the genre's trademark, easily blends acoustic, acid and blues sounds to achieve a harmony of theme and expression.
Pearl Jam sets out to evoke and manipulate the emotional responses of its listeners with remarkable success. Unlike many groups which rely on a lead singer or blazing guitar solos to carry it along, every member of Pearl Jam blends their talents to become something more than the sum of the parts. In the process, they create a lush musical tapestry.
Lead singer Eddie Vedder infuses sparse lyrics with a truly astounding emotional range and intensity. In songs such as "Daughter" and "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," his gravelly voice paints vivid narratives. In the latter song, which follows along in the tradition staked out by REM, his whispered "Hearts and thoughts they fade" conveys a life-time of experience.
The guitars practically entwine the wailing vocals, emphasizing and then expanding upon them in extended riffs.
In "Dissident," the guitar blends so well with the lyrics that at some points they practically sing them along with Eddie, while at others, they serve as a counterpoint.
One of the surprises of this album, however, is the extent to which the drums drive the songs. "W.M.A." (it stand for "White Male American") is a song which rails against racism in the police force. This tune is practically all drum and vocal, with a thrumming bass line in the background. The song's militaristic beat directly contradicts any attempt to classify Pearl Jam as a "guitar" band.
This album establishes that Pearl Jam has more than risen above its origins. It has incorporated its sound into older musical traditions, and created something all its own.