No band from the early ‘90s grunge explosion can boast of careers as impressive as Pearl Jam’s. In fact, most of them came and went as fast as many of their hair metal predecessors. It seemed by 1995, grunge was dead and the Gin Blossoms had taken over. Yet somehow, Pearl Jam has avoided the fate of many of their early ‘90s contemporaries. They survived the era of nü-metal/boy band drudgery and slowly morphed themselves into a career band with one of music’s most rabid cult fan base.
Pearl Jam isn’t the only band to have accomplished such a feat, but it is rare. Unlike dinosaur arena-rockers that are still coercing soccer moms out of their money (Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, I’m looking at you), bands like R.E.M., who survived hair metal and grunge, and Pearl Jam, who has survived nü-metal and the recent new wave resurgence, have maintained their relevancy and integrity along with their longevity. Like R.E.M., Pearl Jam has fashioned themselves a band that’s just as sincere as and more earnest than its former, more urgent self would allow. Rearviewmirror seeks to capture precisely this transformation, and succeeds.
The album is not arranged chronologically; however, their career has mirrored its arrangement. The album is divided into two parts: The “Upside” and the “Downside”. The “Upside”, captures Pearl Jam’s more aggressive rockers. By contrast, the “Downside”, reveals the more introspective and earnest ballads.
There are no big surprises on the collection. The album opens in the same fashion as Ten with “Once”. The opener, along with “Alive” and “Black”, has been remixed by Brendan O’Brian. Usually, I am vehemently opposed to remastering albums beyond restoration. However, O’Brian and Pearl Jam improve upon the originals by stripping away much of the glossy production finish from the original recordings, allowing more of the songs’ depth to come to the forefront. Also included on the “Upside” is, “State of Love and Trust”, from the Singles soundtrack.
On the “Upside” all of the most notable rockers from the band’s first three albums are present, including “Spin the Black Circle”. The song despite its mediocrity, serves as a landmark in Pearl Jam’s career. In many ways it was the first signal that Pearl Jam was on its way out of grunge and into relative obscurity. By choosing to employ the track as the lead single for Vitalogy, the band effectively held up a big middle finger to the world and announced that they had no intention of releasing or making music on terms other than their own.
The remixed version of “Black”, opens the “Downside”. “Black”, “Daughter”, “Betterman” and “Yellow Ledbetter”, also appear. The only blemish on the second side is the slapdash cover of “Last Kiss”, released as part of a charity compilation. The song is rogue throw-away, that probably should never have seen the light of day, much less been a radio single.
Of course to the die-hard Pearl Jam fan there will be omissions and inclusions to argue about in online forums for months. But that’s only to be expected. For those who are only peripheral fans, or quit buying their albums after Versus, Rearviewmirror provides the perfect abridged guide to an impressive career.
Rearviewmirror successfully charts the career of one of the most important bands of our time, and carries the listener from Pearl Jam points “then” to “now” without the fodder and peripheral bickering that surrounded the band during the later part of the ‘90s. However, the songs collected aren’t the most impressive or important part of the collection. In fact the album’s quality has little to do with Pearl Jam’s evolution or anything else about the band specifically. The most impressive part of the album is how the songs captured evoke the times they in which they were written. Each song conjures images of the time period in a different way. This is why, the songs on the “Downside”, are the album’s most impressive. Not because they are that much better, but because they are the hegemonic sounds of the ‘90s. At every party, in every car, without fail these were the songs that provided the back drop to the corruption of a generation’s youth. The songs chosen for the compilation are as good as reliving the formative years without having to get thrown in a trash can or pass out in the bushes at a frat house. This compilation is the ‘90s, captured in 33 songs, and it’s an enjoyable ride.