Pearl Jam: A ‘Best-of’ Band?

I was chatting about music with two work colleagues the other day when our attention turned to ‘best-of’ bands. That is, long-running groups whose careers can best be captured by greatest-hit compilations rather than individual albums.

“Pearl Jam,” one colleague, 10 years my junior at 30, suggested.

“Agreed,” said another, a veritable whipper-snapper at 25.

I sat there, weighing this up. I understood the sentiment; Pearl Jam’s output since, well, 1994’s Vitalogy, has been largely unmemorable. Scattered with gems, yes, but, let’s face it, none of the seven long-players since hold a candle to the first three from the early 1990s, when they were arguably the world’s biggest rock band and I was a teenager and at my most formulative.

Like many middle-aged men now wondering why their own children “can listen to that shit”, Eddie and the boys soundtracked those flower-stem fragile years.

“I think that’s greatly devaluing their first three albums,” I said.

“But you’ll find all the good tracks on a greatest hits,” said the 30-year-old, holding firm.

I shook my head. I explained there were many good songs from the band’s earlier albums that haven’t made a compilation, by virtue of how compilations work. You can only have so many songs from each album and all that. “I hate the concept of greatest hits packages, anyway,” I added. “They’re a lazy cash-grab.”

But I wasn’t going to win this argument. They had a far less attached perspective than I on the band that was recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (And, as a footnote in the wake of Chris Cornell’s tragic death: they were barely familiar with Soundgarden, let alone that band’s seminal album Superunknown.)

… songs so familiar that I might have waited another two decades – to when I’m officially old and my adult daughters have probably given me grandchildren – and the sensory nostalgia would be the same…

Of course, by virtue of his band’s gargantuan beginnings, consistent output since and a string of successful side projects (the Into the Wild soundtrack, for example), Vedder’s drawcard status remains strong; hence the reason for such a debate with two blokes who were barely knee-high to a grasshopper when Pearl Jam headed the grunge movement with Nirvana. Unlike Cornell, Cobain and Weiland, Vedder is a survivor. And he still gets to do cool shit for his daughter, like this surprise for her 12th birthday.

The debate was beneficial, however, as Pearl Jam’s early catalogue got a decent workout over the next week or so.

Since becoming a dad to three girls I’ve often reflected on life before them – in this case, well before them – and compared it with life now, and I almost always I conclude how empty things seemed back in the day… music aside.

I don’t expect my girls to like Pearl Jam but as they get older I’ll guide them towards the music their dad was into at different stages of his life.

After much consternation I’ve chosen five PJ songs that one day I’ll covertly place on their iPods (or whatever they use in five to 10 years’ time). This list would have been much different even 10 years ago, but like people growing apart as they age or change direction, so do people and songs.

  1. Rearviewmirror (Vs)

  2. Jeremy (Ten)

  3. I Got Id (Merkinball EP)

  4. Just Breathe (Backspacer)

  5. Black (Ten)


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