5. Pearl Jam (2006)
Yet another “return to roots” album, Pearl Jam, or as it’s affectionately known, The Avocado Album, is a rocking affair. No more experimenting, no more nebulas; it sounds like a riot, not an act, impassioned and personal. For the first time in over a decade, Pearl Jam went into the studio without any finished songs, only guitar riffs, and that coupled with Vedder’s angry, hurt lyrics concerning “moral issues of our time,” i.e. President George W. Bush, make for a catchy, frustrated (rather than frustrating) barnburner from a band that sounds energized and refreshed.
4. Yield (1998)
Or, the album where Pearl Jam became more than Eddie Vedder…and some other guys in flannel. The other members of the band had a larger hand in shaping the sound of Yield, with Vedder only receiving sole songwriting credit on eight songs, unlike No Code‘s 12. Too many cooks in the kitchen can often lead to disaster, but Pearl Jam wisely got back to their grunge-rock roots after the disappointing reception their previous album was met with. Yield is fairly unadventurous and mostly tidy, and therefore not as memorable as the Big Three, but there is some weirdness lingering around the edges, like on the festering, spoken “Push Me, Pull Me.” The album isn’t a good entry point for Pearl Jam newcomers, with the possible exception of the simple single “Wishlist,” but it’s a revealing listen for long-time fans, hearing a group try to sound like its former self while evolving at the same time.
3. Ten (1991)
The power of Ten is perfectly encapsulated in the scene above, taken from an episode of Eastbound & Down. A grieving Kenny Powers crashes Shane Dog’s funeral carrying a boombox on his shoulder. The songs he picked to honor his fallen friend’s badass legacy: Candlebox’s “Far Behind” and after finishing his touching eulogy with “anyone who wants to step up to this sh*t better recognize,” Pearl Jam’s “Alive.” Forgive the obviousness, but it’s probably Pearl Jam’s greatest song, loud enough to fill an arena, but personal enough to be played at a funeral. Ten is earnest and cathartic in the best way possible, without sacrificing any of the Pearl Jam’s eventual-trademark textured, grooved riffs. It still sounds great 22 years later. Unlike Candlebox. (Sorry.)
2. Vs. (1993)
Vs. sold 950,378 copies during its first five days of release, a then-record. Pearl Jam was one of the biggest rock bands in the world, and they sound like it on Vs. It’s a huge album, the one that solidified the template for the “Pearl Jam sound”: hoarse vocals; paranoid lyrics; self-righteous themes; soaring guitar solos; a dense rhythm section; epics balanced with reflective ballads. It’s impressively confident, especially from a band that became unintentional mega-stars, practically overnight; where other groups might have retreated, Pearl Jam got better.
1. Vitalogy (1994)
Confession: “Bugs” is one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs. It wheezes and lurches, and it’s so far beyond anything the band had recorded up to that point. It, and all of Vitalogy, are wholly unique, a tag not often associated with Pearl Jam — even on Ten, you can hear the influences; on the darkly weird Vitalogy, they’re doing something new, something peculiar, something fleeting that they’d never be quite able to tap into again.
(via Getty Image)
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