A popular grunge-rock band that first emerged in the Seattle music scene in 1990, Pearl Jam has since produced 11 studio albums and sold in excess of 80 million albums worldwide. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, the band was founded by lead singer Eddie Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament, rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard, lead guitarist Mike McCready, and drummer Dave Krusen. Others to have been part of the band include Jack Irons, Matt Cameron, and Dave Abbruzzese.
Pearl Jam is best known for singles including “Better Man,” “Given to Fly,” “Even Flow,” “Jeremy,” and “Alive,” the latter three of which appeared on the band’s debut album Ten. The 1991 album was voted Pearl Jam’s best album in a 2013 Rolling Stone readers’ poll. Below is a look at Ten and five other iconic Pearl Jam albums.
Although ranked as the best Pearl Jam album among readers of Rolling Stone, Ten (1991) was ranked as the third-best album in the band’s discography by Spin in 2019. “Sure, most groups wish that their debut albums could be as imposing, but it was merely a preview of what was to come from Pearl Jam, whose subsequent output showed a more mature outfit, with more awareness of the world around them,” Spin author Chris Harris wrote.
Released under the Epic Records label, Ten became the 22nd full-length album to exceed the 10 million mark in album sales in 2013. This is according to Nielsen SoundScan, which began tracking sales figures in 1991. Other albums that reached the mark before Ten include Usher’s Confessions, Shania Twain’s Come On Over, and Adele’s 21.
Vitalogy (1994) is considered one of Pearl Jam’s best albums in terms of popularity and from a critical perspective, but the creative process behind its production was anything but enjoyable for all band members. Vedder had taken on more responsibility in decision-making than he had three years prior when the band released its debut album, and some of the other band members were becoming resentful of the frontman. Abbruzzese was fired from the band before the album was released and Gossard nearly quit. McCready also spent time in rehab for drug abuse during this time. This all happened while the band was in conflict with Ticketmaster and its high service fees. Gossard and Ament even testified before Congress on this matter, while Pearl Jam sought to perform shows exclusively in venues that didn’t have a partnership with Ticketmaster.
Despite these problems, Vitalogy is a powerful and often aggressive record that blends the band’s grunge roots with an alternative rock sound. The radio-friendly “Better Man,” which Vedder wrote years before the band was formed, spent eight weeks atop the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Other notable songs on the album include “Nothingman” and “Corduroy,” the latter of which highlights Vedder’s resentment as the poster child for Generation X.
Released between Ten and Vitalogy, Vs. (1993) represents a significant achievement for the band in that it was able to follow the success of its critically acclaimed debut album with an equally successful record that was well received among critics and fans. The album sold 1.3 million units within 10 days of its release and solidified the band’s status as a leading rock act in the 1990s. Produced by longtime collaborator Brendan O’Brien, Vs. features many of Pearl Jam’s most beloved tracks, including “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” “Daughter,” and “Animal.”
The aptly titled Yield (1998) was Pearl Jam’s first album since the band went on hiatus following the release of Vitalogy. As opposed to Vedder having final say on the creative process, the band instead worked as a democracy. Moreover, the band yielded to Ticketmaster and their record label over arguments concerning venues and music videos, respectively. The music video for “Do the Evolution,” for instance, is an animated depiction, directed by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, of monkeys being tortured. Although Yield wasn’t as much of a mainstream success as the band’s first three albums, it ranked fourth in the Rolling Stone readers’ poll.
Spin calls Backspacer (2009) one of the band’s “least appreciated offerings,” while lauding upbeat and catchy songs such as “Got Some” and “Supersonic.” It’s also somewhat of a dissent from the band’s grunge roots, as there are hints of horns, violas, pianos, and cellos throughout the album. Other noteworthy songs on the album include “Amongst the Waves” and “Just Breathe.”
Almost three decades after its debut album, Pearl Jam released its 11th studio album — Gigaton — in March 2020. The band’s first release in seven years explores personal and political topics and includes singles “Dance of the Clairvoyants” and “Superblood Wolfmoon,” which peaked at №14 on Billboard’s Rock Digital Song Sales. Pitchfork gave the album a rating of 6.2 out of 10, which is considerably better than the 5.0 it gave Lightning Bolt (2013).