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Ten

Pearl Jam

1991

Here's the thing about Ten that no-one seems to ever talk about: side 2 of the album.  We all know that side one is epic…that's really the only way to describe it…the intensity, the passion, the grit…it's incredibly righteous shit, resoundingly spirited and fantastic.  One could argue that Pearl Jam have never lived up to the gravitas of those epic songs on side 1 the rest of their 20+ year career, but what to make of Side 2?  Not saying that Side 2 is bad, because it most certainly is not, but after "Jeremy" all the rest of the songs (with the exception of "Porch") have a hard time maintaining the raw, exhilarating, unabashed energy that characterizes side 1.  That said, I used to think "Oceans" was a snoozer, but over time I have come to find it to be a very enchanting and soothing song.  As for the other few songs that round-out the album...they're too subdued and relatively pedestrian when compared to the epics that proceed it, so there has just always seemed like a huge gap in quality between the 1st half of the record and the 2nd, so much so that I typically end the album after "Porch".  Because of the front-loaded nature of Ten, I've always had a hard time calling Ten an epic or great album because it loses a great deal of steam on the 2nd half.  That said, the 1st half of the album is so phenomenal, I suppose that's enough to make Ten a great album overall even if it overshadows the relatively lackluster tunes that close it out.  Ultimately, Ten is a classic in most everyone's book, and is arguably PJ's best album.

9.1

Vs

Pearl Jam

1993

Upon first listen, Vs might not strike you as a better album than Pearl Jam's epic debut released a couple of years earlier.  And while Vs may not have the immediacy or gravitas of Ten, upon repeated listens, it reveals itself to be just as good if not better than the aforementioned album.  Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the rawer sound on Vs, as it is generally a heavier affair than Ten.  Many songs still give you the visceral rush that goes along with any great hard-rocking PJ song, namely "Animal" which is probably the most kick-ass song on the album.  "Glorfied G" is no slouch either, sporting a downright funky vibe to boot.  But what really makes Vs such a great record are the more laid-back, sensitive, thoughtful songs that help give the album it's genuine, sincere, and uniquely earnest heart.  "Daughter" for example has always struck a cord with me, as well as the yearning and touching "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town".  There's something so incredibly genuine about these songs.  Their heart and humanity are palpable.  Speaking of humanity, the album ends with the incredibly powerful yet quiet "Indifference" one of my personal favorite songs of all-time.  The mood of this song is compelling, emotionally gripping, and really encapsulates the type of affirming, resilient grit that makes Pearl Jam such a great band.

Vs was a bit of a transitional album for Pearl Jam, as they would go on to explore their more experimental, introspective side on forthcoming albums.  As a result, they lost some of the immediacy and intensity that helped define their sound early on.  To these ears, Vs has the perfect mix of their more primal, heavier sound balanced with their sensitive and introspective side, and it's my personal favorite album from the band.

9.1

Vitalogy

Pearl Jam

1994

Vitalogy is not as consistently good as their prior album "Vs", but the highs on this album are arguably higher, yet the lows to be found here are definitely lower.  So that kind of makes Vitalogy kind of a frustrating album at times.  There's undeniably great material to be found here (i.e. "Corduroy", "Not For You", "Betterman", "Nothingman", etc) but for every great song there’s "Bugs" to cancel it out.  While you kind of have to give the band props for experimentation, it unfortunately doesn't always work on Vitalogy.  So this album has some soaring, endearing peaks, but also some awkward valleys, and everything else in between really.  Vitalogy is a unique album in their catalog.  For all the greatness to be found here, it is ultimately slightly flawed in my eyes.  But at the end of the day, Vitalogy is still a very good album and essential listening in their catalog.

8.9

No Code

A set of Polaroid photos. On the upper side the title "Pearl Jam - No Code" is written in red letters.

Pearl Jam

1996

This is the album where a lot of people gave-up on PJ, but I have always found No Code to be a uniquely compelling and personal listening experience.  It has a special, introspective spirit about it…it's less immediate and affecting as some of their prior work, but the overall vibe has more subtle depth to it.  Whereas their prior material was much more resounding, emotional, and affirming in nature, No Code sounds more personal.  It's contemplative, reflective...you can kind of get lost within yourself listening to some of these songs, which has always made No Code a special album.  It sounds like a hike alone in the woods on a chilly rainy day.  It sounds like wet leaves, beautiful scenic overlooks...kind of... Hard to put into the words the feeling this album evokes in me, but I really dig it.  That said, it's hard to say if it's better than Ten or Vs overall, but it's a more personal album to me, which makes it very special overall in my book.

9.0

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