Pearl Jam | Ten Redux (Sony Legacy)

cd_pearl-jam.jpgAs the saying goes, history is written by the winners. In this case, we get to benefit, too.







What can be said about Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, that hasn’t been said in the years since its release in 1991? It is universally acknowledged, alongside Nirvana’s Nevermind, as the quintessential grunge record, which means it helped change the sound of rock music forever (sometimes for the better, sometimes not). This reputation is well discussed but also well deserved, as the album is packed from beginning to end with excellent songs. So why is Ten being reissued now, when everyone already knows how great it is?

If it were only about reissuing the album in its original form there wouldn’t be much of a purpose (beyond helping Ed Vedder’s kids go to college). Fortunately, there’s more to it. As even the most casual fan probably knows, all those great songs on the original release of the album were buried under some pretty awful production. This reissue of Ten is accompanied by a deconstructed and remixed "companion" version of the record, completed by the band’s longtime producer Brendan O’Brien. He was apparently reluctant to undertake a project tinkering with such a seminal record, but finally agreed at the urging of the band.

Thankfully, listening to O’Brien’s remix (titled Ten Redux) is like receiving a gift you never really knew you wanted. The new production elements are most evident in the first half, probably because that’s the side with the original radio hits. "Once" and "Evenflow" both sound more immediate and less muted. But the new sound really comes, well, alive on "Alive." Clean, crisp and jagged in a way it never has been before, this "Alive," and the four-song run it begins ("Why Go," "Black" and "Jeremy"), is nothing short of astounding. The same staggering difference in sound is in full effect on the back half of the album as well, and each of the songs benefit, notably "Garden" and "Deep."

The "Deluxe" edition of the reissue (there are four versions, with the most expansive sporting four LPs and a replica demo cassette) includes several bonus tracks on the Redux disc and a DVD of several songs from the band’s 1992 Unplugged performance. The DVD is most notable for the sense of nostalgia it comes with: The band looks so young, and the room is bursting to the breaking point with the near-riotous energy that defined the early years of grunge.

Could the Ten of 1991 have sounded like the Ten Redux of 2009? Probably not, and the argument might be made that to "revise history" with a remix is inappropriate. The fact that this argument is easily rendered toothless by the continued availability of the original notwithstanding, it’s worth noting that Pearl Jam took 1991’s Ten and built a wildly successful career on it that is rapidly approaching the two-decade mark. Maybe they’ve earned the right to tinker. As the saying goes, history is written by the winners. In this case, we get to benefit, too. A+ | John Shepherd

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