Widely acknowledged as the greatest band of the '90s, Pearl Jam has continued to produce music on its own terms, maintaining a strong following even through some unpopular decisions, like refusing to play out its megahit “Jeremy.” With ten official albums and numerous side projects completed by this point, say what you will about the band, but its collective pool of creativity runs deep.
Fronted by enigmatic and polarizing singer Eddie Vedder, anchored by Jeff Ament’s bass, and sonically charged by the guitars of Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, Pearl Jam suffered like many other bands do from drummer turnover early on but has found a rallying beat in Matt Cameron, who has helmed the back line since ’98.
To hype the kickoff of Pearl Jam's North American tour this Friday at BB&T Center in Sunrise, we've turned to fans and New Times contributor Jesse Scheckner (whose love for the group's lesser-known and underappreciated tracks was invaluable in compiling this list) to count down the band's ten best tracks of all time, album by album.
10. “Release,” Ten (1991)
“Their debut album, lyrically, was Vedder’s attempt to exorcise his demons — specifically about the deception and rejection he faced as a young boy,” says Scheckner. “The famous story of his mother’s deceit— telling him that his real father was a family friend who recently died and not the man who raised him — is known by almost everyone at this point. But in 'Release,' Vedder seems to finally make peace with everything.”
9. “Rearviewmirror,” Vs. (1993)
“Pearl Jam is on my list of guilty pleasures,” acknowledges Bleedingpalm.com and MIFF darling Ronnie Rivera. Former local zine-ster Rob Cleves (Mulch) confesses: “The only song of theirs I'd still put on a mix.”
8. “Last Exit,” Vitalogy (1994)
“The opening track of this album is a killer,” says Scheckner. “With two albums behind them, Vedder had clearly emerged as the creative spearhead for the band and opted to steer them in a harder, less arena-rock-oriented musical direction. ‘Last Exit’ starts with the band tuning up and then Dave Abbruzzese’s smashing drums sounding off before the rest of the band converges in a new sonic direction. The lyrics are stream-of-consciousness poetry and stand up when read independent of their musical accompaniment.”
7. “Lukin,” No Code (1996)
“I love the song because it doesn't sound like a Pearl Jam song,” says Moon Pigeon and Hit Play! bassist Gaston de la Vega. “It sounds like they're playing a cover. It's a very short song. Probably a little bit over a minute long. They usually time in the next song, which is called ‘Present Tense.’”
6. “Do the Evolution,” Yield (1998)
Tim Moffatt likes this one because “it’s PJ doing their best Mudhoney impression.” It is rapper and punk-rock collaborator E. Grizzly’s favorite because “Eddie Vedder sounds like a fucking maniac on that song.” On the hip-hop tip, LMS also finds resonance in it: “The song was very uncharacteristic of their sound in comparison to their previous singles. Add to that the powerful imagery in both the lyrics and the video and it's one of those songs that, especially now, not only be should be credited but needs to be credited as one of Pearl Jam's finer works, if for no other reason than to bring as much social commentary as possible to the forefront of popular music.”