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Probably the most popular American rock band of the 1990s (and one of the "great four" of Grunge, along with Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden), Pearl Jam was formed out of the ashes of local Seattle band Mother Love Bone, whose singer Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose in 1990. Bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard began writing songs together, and eventually guitarist Mike McCready joined them. Looking for a singer and a drummer, they recorded a demo tape and gave it to Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons, who declined the invitation but passed the tape onto his friend, San Diego surfer Eddie Vedder. Vedder was impressed by the tape, recorded his own vocals for a few of the songs and sent it back to Stone, Jeff, and Mike. Within a week, Vedder was hired, and flew up to Seattle to join the band. The rest is rock history; their first album, Ten, sold over 13 million copies, with the singles "Alive" and "Jeremy" being massively successful. Vs., the second, reached #1 on the charts the week it came out, outselling the other nine albums on the top 10 combined. While since then, the band has rebelled against their fame and stardom by moving away from their arena-rock roots (for the most part) on later albums Vitalogy, No Code, and Riot Act, they still tour constantly to give fans an opportunity to see them live, and have made a return to their hard rock origins with their self-titled album, released in 2006. Their following album, Backspacer (2009), was their first to be domestically distributed through Pearl Jam's own label, Monkeywrench Records.
Since 1998, their lineup has been:
- Eddie Vedder (vocals, guitar, ukulele)
- Mike McCready (guitar)
- Stone Gossard (guitar)
- Jeff Ament (bass guitar)
- Matt Cameron (drums), formerly a member of Soundgarden
- With Boom Gaspar (keyboards, touring member) since 2003.
- 1991 - Ten
- 1993 - Vs.
- 1994 - Vitalogy
- 1996 - No Code
- 1998 - Yield
- 2000 - Binaural
- 2002 - Riot Act
- 2006 - Pearl Jam
- 2009 - Ten Legacy Edition (2-disk, first disc with original album mixes, second with all songs remixed and bonus songs)
- 2009 - Backspacer
- 2011 - Remasters of Vs. and Vitalogy, each with some bonus songs
They also backed Neil Young on his 1995 album Mirror Ball.
- Apocalypse How: "Do the Evolution" shows a post-modern dystopia eventually ending in nuclear war and the destruction of mankind.
- Ate His Gun: The music video for "Jeremy" ends with the eponymous character shooting himself in front of his classmates.
- Black Sheep Hit: Their cover of "Last Kiss". Also, "Better Man", the band's biggest hit in the United States in terms of pop radio airplay, is much more acoustic and midtempo than most of their other songs.
- By the same logic, modern and classic rock stations mostly play from Ten, Vs. and maybe Vitalogy if they're feeling charitable. They will play newer Pearl Jam upon release, but it tends to fade fast.
- Call Back: From "Daughter."
The shades go down in her mind.
- Then, later, on "Rearviewmirror:"
Finally the shades are raised.
- Calling the Old Man Out: "Better Man", according to Eddie Vedder, is "dedicated to the bastard that married my Momma" -- his stepfather, with whom he didn't share the best of relationships. Inversely seen in "Release", written for his biological father, whom he hardly knew.
- Careful with That Axe: Vedder does it sometimes, especially on "Do the Evolution" and their cover for "Love, Reign o'er Me".
- Cluster F-Bomb: "Save You"
- Curse Cut Short: From the B Side/Lost Dog track "Dirty Frank"
That Dirty Frank was a bad mother--
- It doubles as a Shaft reference as well.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Jeremy's suicide at the end of the titular video. The TV edit also removes the shot of him putting the gun in his mouth.
- Gratuitous Panning: The guitar fills during the second verse of "Even Flow" switch between being played exclusively in the left channel and exclusively in the right, and the remixed version of Ten tends to put the rhythm and acoustic guitars on one side and the lead guitar on the other.
- The Grim Reaper: Present as a pretty, black-haired lady in "Do the Evolution".
- I'm a Humanitarian: "Dirty Frank" is about a cannibal.
- Indecipherable Lyrics: "Misheard Pearl Jam" videos are quite common.
- Isn't It Ironic?: "Betterman" is heard in weddings. You know, a song that goes "She lies and says she's in love with him..."
- Limited Special Collectors Ultimate Edition: Ten's 15th anniversary edition. One of the unreleased rarities on the second disc, "Brother", was released as a single to promote the album...and almost immediately became one of the band's biggest rock radio hits in years.
- Long Title: They usually have one word-title songs. They eventually got tired of it and wrote "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town".
- Lyrical Dissonance: All over the place ("Even Flow", "Alive", "Better Man"...). Some get into Misaimed Fandom.
- "Alive" is a striking example, given the song sounds very hopeful, but the lyrics are actually about...yeah.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Usually 5, occasionally ventured as low as 2.
- Mood Whiplash: Normally their songs are fairly depressing, but especially "Indifference". It starts off appearing to be a simple "You'll never break me song", but what it is actually is Vedder lamenting why he does the things he does, even though they make little difference in what he wants to change.
- New Sound Album: After Ten and Vs., most albums got really experimental.
- Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: The lyrics and video to "Jeremy"
- Non-Appearing Title: Quite a few ("Corduroy", "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town", "The Fixer")
- Nose Yodeling: The Trope Codifier.
- One Word Title: Most of the songs on Ten (except for "Even Flow" and "Why Go") and several on Vs.; averted with "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town."
- Parental Incest: "Alive"; the bandmembers stated the story is continued in "Once" (the guys snaps up and kills people) and the B-side "Footsteps" (the guy is on the death row).
- Past in The Rearview Mirror: "Rearviewmirror".
- Precision F-Strike:
- In "Jeremy":
Clearly I remember, pickin' on the boy // Seemed a harmless little fuck
- In "Why Go"
She's been diagnosed // By some stupid fuck // And Mommy agrees
- Eddie also audibly murmurs "Fuck it up" before one of the solos in "Even Flow".
- Protest Song: A few in the self-titled album.
- Remaster: The first three albums have been remastered and re-released, each with a number of unreleased songs and demos; Ten was also remixed.
- Rock Band: The second game has "Alive" and the entirety of Ten and Backspacer as DLC, "Life Wasted" and "Even Flow" are in Guitar Hero 2 (Xbox 360 version) and 3 (all versions) respectively.
- Shout-Out: Originally named Mookie Blaylock, after a basketball player the guys admired. While they had to change their name, the first album, Ten, is Mookie's jersey number. Also, "Yellow Ledbetter" to Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" and "Given to Fly" to Led Zeppelin's "Going to California".
- Something Something Leonard Bernstein / The Unintelligible: Vedder's vocals often are a mix of these.
- Step Up to the Microphone: Stone Gossard sings "Mankind". When Jack Irons was still in the band, he sang lead on the compilation track "The Whale Song", with Eddie Vedder doing backup vocals.
- Take That: The song "Sweet Lew" serves as this to basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabaar.