Don’t Understand People Who Hate Pearl Jam
With Pearl Jam’s documentary PJ20 making the film festival circuit (directed by Cameron Crowe), I’ve been re-exploring their catalog and re-discovering exactly why I fell in love with them in the first place. It’s an interesting journey they have made from being the biggest band in the world, to avoiding the limelight, fighting Ticketmaster, and transforming from the Seattle grunge sound to a quintessential American rock band. I just can’t for the life of me understand the majority of the reasons people have given me in the last few years why they hate them.
The first major complaint I hear from the late twenties to late thirties crowd is that they sucked after their debut album Ten. I find that most of these people tend to be Nirvana fans who are still obsessed with the grunge sound and never accepted their bands progressing past their original sound. It would have been easy for Pearl Jam to make a dozen albums that sound exactly like Ten. It would have been no different than the countless other popular bands who regurgitate the same music with similar lyrics for decades while their fans mindlessly slurp it up. Hell, even Ten was criticized by Cobain for not sticking to the grunge sound because it featured too many guitar leads (Sorry Kurt, but Stone Gossard and Mike McCready are too good with their axes to be just be distorted background fodder.)
The second major complaint I hear is mostly from the mid twenties group that complain that Pearl Jam is responsible for Creed, Nickelback, Three Doors Down, Staind, Puddle of Mudd, etc. When in reality, the more commercialized post-grunge sound represented exactly what Pearl Jam tried to avoid when they avoided making videos, avoided Ticketmaster venues, and generally avoided the non-music press. It’s funny to me that Bush, Silverchair, Foo Fighters, Candlebox, Live, etc. managed to avoid the wrath when they were the first wave of post-grunge bands that had mainstream success. A band who writes an album inspired by one of the most heavily debated contemporary philosophy books Ishmael and is praised by the author Daniel Quinn isn’t exactly a band that was trying to nab more mainstream success.
Even bands that have inspired Pearl Jam and Pearl Jam’s contemporaries pay homage to the band. The Doors, the Ramones, R.E.M., and Neil Young were all inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame by Eddie Vedder. Pete Townshend of The Who, who were hugely influential on Pearl Jam’s sound, has collaborated with the band. Chris Cornell of Soundgarden has expressed awe at his friends for lasting as long as they have. Vedder has been on Who, Ramones, Bad Religion, Neil Young, and R.E.M. albums. He’s recorded with the Strokes. Ben Harper, Cypress Hill, and Tom Petty have performed lived with Pearl Jam. The former drummers of Soundgarden (Matt Cameron also the drummer for Queens of a Stone Age’s first EP) and Red Hot Chili Peppers (Jack Irons) both have been drummers for Pearl Jam, and Dave Grohl of Nirvana even played the drums for Pearl Jam while on tour 1995. Matt Cameron and Mike McCready contributed to Peter Frampton’s instrumental album Fingerprints. They opened for the the Rolling Stones for a two night date in 1997 (and were asked to kick start the tour and play the Seattle shows which they declined). This isn’t exactly a band that has chosen to associate itself with the post-grunge highly commercial bands with whom they are often linked.
The third major complaint is Eddie Vedder’s vocals. The argument tends to either center on not being able to understand him or thinking that he’s just a poor singer in general. I understand his voice isn’t for everyone. I just don’t think Jim Morrison baritone growl kept the Doors from being recognized. I don’t think Bob Dylan’s vocal range kept him from expressing himself through his music. I get people not enjoying singers they can’t understand but be consistent. Most of the time, these same critics will say they love Lil’ Wayne.
Those who hate Eddie because of Scott Stapp, Chad Kroeger, Scott Weiland, Gavin Rossdale, and Brett Scallions (a recent Nerve.com article on singers influenced by Eddie) shouldn’t lose sight that Eddie’s vocals was pretty distinctively his own when he first appeared on the scene. Do you blame Radiohead’s Thom Yorke for Muse’s Matt Bellamy and Coldplay’s Chris Martin? Do you blame the Clash for Green Day? Do you blame the Beatles for Oasis? Everyone with success is mimicked to some degree.
Maybe it’s just the people with whom I’ve been spending time. Admittedly, I spend a lot of time with indie music snobs who tend to hate bands with any commercial success from the 70’s through the present…. yet somehow love the Beatles, the most pop band of all time.
Honestly, what’s not to love about a band who has released official bootlegs of every show they have played for the last 11 years and sold over 3.5 million copies of them? They’re just as good live as they are on the albums and put the music out there to prove it. If I can forgive the Rolling Stones for pumping out a lot of filler albums, I think other people can at least acknowledge that Pearl Jam for over 20 years has been one of the great modern rock bands.