Pearl Jam Regretted How ‘Ten’ Sounded and the Fame it Brought

Photo of Eddie Vedder by Tony Novak-Clifford
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There’s a strong chance that no one in Seattle was really prepared for what was going to happen when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” took over the world. With just that one Nirvana song, the entire rock landscape suddenly shifted to the Pacific Northwest, as bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains became the biggest acts in the world.

It may have been time to celebrate, but the members of Pearl Jam weren’t exactly comfortable with what happened to their debut album Ten. 

They had originally just put out their debut record as an excuse to get them out on the road, but the world would soon latch on to Ten in a way that caused a seismic shift in their popularity.

As Chris Cornell said though, Eddie Vedder wasn’t all that happy with the way the band was rising so quickly, sayingI think {Eddie} wanted the band to be like R.E.M. Having a band that spends years in a van and pays their dues and then becomes huge. I think he was critical about the mixes of Ten and how everything was getting too commercial.

It wasn’t just Eddie who had some problems with the way that Ten turned out, with most of the band hating the huge reverb sound that was tacked on by the late producer Rick Parashar, which made everything sound absolutely huge.

Speaking after the fact, guitarist Stone Gossard saidfrom a musical standpoint, it still seems kind of unrealized. But that just proves that I can’t hear it.

As the band’s star continued to rise, Eddie was still more and more confused about his own fame, sayingI want to be a kind of huge band that can be huge and faceless. It can be done. I’ve seen Pink Floyd…I mean, it can be done.

Elaborating more on the compounding issues he faced dealing with new found fame, Vedder said:

“I felt that with more popularity, we were going to be crushed, our heads were going to pop like grapes.

I knew it wasn’t graceful, the way we were handling it. At the same time, it’s like being graceful in an alley fight. You’re just trying to get out of there alive. We held tight to each other and held tight to music.”

In an attempt to stop the band from imploding, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready recalls that they essentially had to press the pause button and turn down massive opportunities like stadium tours and even a Calvin Klein modeling offer for Vedder: “No, we’ve got to [pull back], because this is all gonna fall apart if we don’t.’ And I think they were right.”

In the years since Ten’s release, the band has made attempts to course correct their unhappiness.

Although engineer Brendan O’Brien eventually remixed the album how the band wanted it, the energy of the first performances are gone, replaced with a sound that feels closer to their follow up Vs. 

Regarding any unhappiness with the record itself, with years past now, Gossard thankfully thinks the energy of the record translates a lot better live, sayingThe way we inhabit the songs and what they mean to all of us now is incredible, in terms of what they mean to the crowd…how long ago they were written and how they still reveal things.” 

The record might not have been what they wanted, but it probably doesn’t hurt hearing the stadium chant the songs back to you either.