Though strongly counseled against it, I will admit here and now that I don't believe I've ever consciously sat down and listened to Pearl Jam's debut album, Ten, from beginning to end.
It's not that I don't like PJ — in fact, they've grown to be one of my favorite live bands over the past decade or so. But before I started writing about music for a living, I was much more regimented about my listening habits. I'd devour everything I could, but for some reason PJ's music just didn't grab me back in my Nirvana-centric days.
Which is why listening to the remixed reissue of Ten that hits stores Tuesday (March 24) is something of a revelation. I've been spinning it almost exclusively for the past few weeks and each time I give a song like "Once" or the ominously alluring "Garden" another try, I'm newly blown away at their power, punch and the intensity of singer Eddie Vedder's voice. I'm not telling anyone who's already a big fan anything new, but even if you've listened 1,000 times, the crispness of these tracks is like someone grabbing you from the back row and pushing you up to the sweaty pit, pulling your ear plugs out and shoving you up against the speaker as the seasick guitars start swaying crazily during "Deep."
Of course "Even Flow," "Alive" and "Jeremy" still pack a wallop — and the band continues to tear into them like they're brand new in concert to this day — but these other songs, the ones I hadn't really investigated fully before ... wow.
The remixed songs crackle with a jazzy, swinging energy I began to remember from the time I saw PJ play in a dumpy little off-campus bar in Madison, Wisconsin — called the R&R Station — in March 1992. Mike McCready's feral guitar playing on "Why Go," all coiled energy and chicken scratching bursts of ominous noise; bassist Jeff Ament's finger popping, deep funk bass and Vedder's dog snarl bellow of "Why go home!" are like my own personal discovery of a 12-million selling Rosetta Stone my friends have been trying to tell me about for more than 15 years.
Listening to the undulating, Jane's Addiction-like "Oceans" now, you can clearly see the through line to Vedder's pastoral solo soundtrack to "Into the Wild," which makes all the bizarre twists and turns the band has taken between then and now even more fascinating. The set has been remixed by producer Brendan O'Brien, who didn't work on PJ's debut, but helmed their next four albums and, for a while, was practically a sixth member of the group.
The band are also offering up all the master tracks from Ten for download at the "Rock Band" music store for use on Xbox 360 and PS3. And, if you dare, drummer Matt Cameron is playing "Rock Band 2" with Xbox Live Gold members on March 27 at 7 p.m. EST.