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Pearl Jam
Back in the day when grunge and alternative rock were fledgling music forms, critics proclaimed that no band would achieve long-term success. Pearl Jam’s meteoric rise not only caused bands that would’ve otherwise been ignored to get more attention, it also changed forever the ears of the listening public, bending pop fans toward something new. After their smash hit Jeremy, many thought this band was a one-hit wonder fated to the discount bins of seedy record stores. People now know better. Whatever force inspired these boys has remained strong throughout their career for close to two decades.

Their Place on the Fame Scoreboard
It didn't take too long for critics and peers to start looking up these boys to find out what the noise was all about. And noise it was. Great noise. Pearl Jam was definitely not the first band out of Seattle to play grunge music, but it was one of the first that would help make it explode. In the early nineties, this band commanded a following that paralleled Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Guns N’ Roses. Their second album Vs. set an all time record in the nineties for the number of copies it sold in the first week of release and 1994’s Vitalogy became the second quickest selling CD in history, with more than 877,000 units sold in its first week alone.

Their albums altogether have sold over 35 million copies. The band had thirteen top ten hits on the US charts in the nineties ~ including four #1 singles, and three #1 albums ~ one after the other. At one point they even had a #1 album on the same chart with new releases from Michael Jackson, Guns N’ Roses and U2. Countless magazines, including Time, have put the band on their covers and next to Nirvana they are the most remembered rock act of the grunge era. While the band’s mainstream popularity has waned with the arrival of Brit-rock bands like Radiohead and Coldplay, its core audience still cherishes the group's dark sound; their 2002 effort Riot Act debuted at #5 on the charts.

Why Everybody Loves Them
They are much more than just some popular band to the millions that turn to their emotion-driven music for comfort, solidarity, and a sense of connectedness. While front man Eddie Vedder has never sought the role, he became the symbol of a generation, with Peal Jam being hailed as one of the most relevant bands of Generation X in the 1990s. The media criticised them, the fans worshipped them, but no one understood them. With their music, Pearl Jam offered us a counter-image to rally around. Instead of the ideals of love, activism and self-determination, the call to arms of their grunge music was apathy, sarcasm and disgust with the world. They vindicated the sensibilities of being young that before had seemed embarrassing and impotent. Even today, because of its sheer raw edge and being devoid of the excessive production polish, their sound is an easy sell for young people everywhere. Rock fans have always found their music to be the nihilistic antidote to the vacuous pop tunes and heavy nu-metal that litters MTV and the radio airwaves. Lacking a phalanx of bad haircuts and cheesy gimmicks, they helped a generation to grab Discmans and now iPods in the fight for self-definition.

The New Album
Like U2 did with their last release, Pearl Jam made the choice to rediscover their roots and they’ve done so with liberating results. Nicknamed ‘avocado’ (because of the picture of the fruit on the sleeve) the self-titled Pearl Jam finds the band back at its best in one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year. A chart-topping run is assured as first single World Wide Suicide is already the fastest charting hit in the band's career. Front man Eddie Vedder has submitted to perhaps a half-dozen interviews in recent years, but things are now very different. He spoke about the band’s newest album in four years, and the first for their new record company, with renewed idealism and confidence.

The new album is being hailed as the best one of your career. That must feel good.
Vedder: If someone says this new album is returning to the energy of the first couple of records, that's great for me. Lately I've been feeling some of those things I used to feel. (Laughs) If I swam out a couple of miles on the last few records, this time I was way out in the middle. I think there are so many distractions in modern life that people aren't aware of the beauty that surrounds them or where they are.

It’s been four years since you’ve released any new material. What took you so long?
Vedder: I feel our whole recording lifespan is really one long album. I don't think two or three years ago you could even get a song called World Wide Suicide with the word soldier in it played on the radio. After 9/11, they took (John Lennon’s) Imagine off the air! There's a grace period after you make a record, and you know what went into all the songs. And I don't think we've ever made a record where it didn't feel like our first record…

Was it difficult to get back into the studio to nail this one down?
Vedder: Pretty much every song was written like looking at a body of water. Its like surfing….the words and the lyrics ride the song, basically. You're not underneath the surface and you're not above it…you're on it. And all you're doing as a singer is giving it some kind of meaning.

Pearl Jam has proven that they are a band that values their privacy. An interview with you is still considered a rare event.
Vedder: I guess I got better at dealing with success. (Laughs) I surrendered to the fact that things have changed. Most people crave fame and find some comfort with it. Most of the bands I knew seemed to shun it altogether. If it gets out of hand like it did early on, we would be right back in a position we worked really hard to get out of. (Laughs)

You’ve always come across as band with something to say. So what’s the agenda on this record?
Vedder: The problem these days is there so much in the atmosphere you know it's hard to file it down into song forms. To me that seems a challenge…

You can read the rest of our cover story on Pearl Jam in the May 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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