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Instant Expert: Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam
Troy Augusto, Getty Images

You’ve seen them at parties, lurking in the corner, waiting to engage in battle disguised as conversation. They’re indie rock know-it-alls, and no matter what band or musician you mention, they’ve got an opinion — strong and almost certainly negative — ready to ram down your throat. With Instant Expert, we offer preparation for these very situations. Each Thursday, in advance of your weekend carousing, we pick an artist and provide a quickie career overview, highlighting both prevailing critical opinions and the inevitable contrarian counterarguments. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the music, you’ll be able to bluff your way through and defend your indie cred. This week: Pearl Jam.


Samir Hussein, Getty Images
Samir Hussein, Getty Images

The Gist

 
 

In the late '80s and early '90s, there was an awful band from Seattle called Mother Love Bone. Their singer died of a heroin overdose. So the surviving members put out a call for a new frontman and found a surfer dude in San Diego named Eddie Vedder, a smart, charismatic leader who added some much-needed heft to the new group's meathead crunch. Pearl Jam released their debut album in 1991. A year or so later, they were one of the biggest bands on the planet. They've released eight more albums, each more complex than the one before it. Through it all, they've maintained a devoted fan base that has stuck with them through the rough patches they claim don't exist.

 
Pearl Jam Ten

Critical Consensus

 
 

Nobody expected the group's 1991 debut, 'Ten,' to become a monster hit. But it came along at the right time, peaking just as modern rock was starting to creep up in the mainstream. Its mix of classic hard rock, meditative ballads and art-speckled indie have one thing in common: great songs. 'Ten' is just as much about melody as it is about mood -- something Mother Love Bone and countless other bands before and after Pearl Jam never grasped.

 
Pearl Jam Vitalogy

Contrarian Counterargument

 
 

Pearl Jam's third album, 1994's 'Vitalogy,' showcases the group's various shadings -- from introspective ('Better Man') to experimental ('Bugs') to balls-out rockin' ('Spin the Black Circle'). It's the moment where they became a real band and one of the '90s' greatest.

 
Pearl Jam Pearl Jam

Counter-counterargument

 
 

The band's self-titled 2006 LP, commonly referred to as 'The Avocado Album,' is the one for real fans, not the people who don't know the difference between Bush, Creed and Pearl Jam. You know, the people who own 'Ten.'

 
Frank Micelotta, Getty Images
Frank Micelotta, Getty Images

Whatever You Do, Don’t Say This

 
 

Pearl Jam? Didn't they break up in the '90s? Or am I thinking of that other group?

 

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