March 31, 2009

Album Review: Pearl Jam Reissue Not A Ten

In a certain idealistic context, once a band releases an album, that music belongs to its listeners, its songs invariably taking root in people’s lives and affixing a soundtrack to their memories. And so it’s a dicey endeavor whenever a work is tinkered with, especially when done so beyond applying conventional sonic enhancements.

One of the most seminal albums of the Nineties, Pearl Jam’s Ten has now been reissued in an array of formats, its Deluxe Edition (which is reviewed here) comprising two versions of the album as well as six previously unreleased bonus tracks and a DVD of the band’s 1992 appearance on MTV Unplugged.
First and most essential, though, is the album proper, which has been deftly remastered to not only amplify the music’s more pronounced elements, but also to clarify its subtler ones. Peripheral flourishes — like the wah-wah distortions swirling through “Why Go” and “Evenflow” — have been augmented, resulting in a much fuller resonance. 

A sufficient (and at times, striking) visual counterpart to Ten remastered is the Unplugged performance, which does a fine job in exhibiting how a lack of electricity doesn’t preclude an insidious rhythm section. Less remarkable, yet still constructive in underscoring this early era of the band are the previously unreleased tracks, of which the improvised “2,000 Mile Blues” trounces the rest of the batch, smoldering all headlong and heavy.

While the remastering job serves the album and its legacy well, the “redux” version 
— which covers markedly different sonic ground — strikes this writer as blatantly revisionist. The backstory, in a nutshell, is that the band has, for some time, felt dissatisfied with the reverb-laden sound heard on Ten — which Rick Parashar produced — instead preferring the more organic, abrasive tones of their sophomore effort, Vs., which Brendan O’Brien produced. Incidentally, O’Brien has been at the helm of four subsequent Pearl Jam records to date.

With nearly twenty years of hindsight and ever-changing resources, just about any qualified rock ‘n’ roll band could freshen up or tweak some of their past perceived missteps to sound exactly like the music in their minds. With rare exceptions, though, most bands don’t give into that temptation. Whatever technical glitches or audible faults may plague an original production, once the album hits stores and airwaves, then it becomes something more than an exchangeable product. And, along the same idealistic lines of music belonging to its listeners, remixing Ten 
— to the extent it has on the redux disc — isn’t just modifying some music; it’s infringing on all of the memories and perceptions to which it’s long since been associated and appreciated.