Since I am going through a 90’s grunge phase musically, I wanted to compare two of the most famous 90’s albums that helped shape alternative rock, so what better place to start than Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind?
I had never heard Ten in its entirety but I had listened to Nevermind numerous times. I was expecting to listen to two heavy weights exchanging their best punches, neither backing down, and having a hard time declaring a winner. I was expecting wrong.
One song into each album, the fight is already decided. Nirvana comes out of the gate as hard as they possibly can with ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ absolutely obliterating Pearl Jam’s meandering—and to be honest, not very good—‘Once.’
‘Once’ sets the tone for Ten, and it’s not a very good tone to set. Granted, the hits—Even Flow, Alive, Black and Jeremy—are genuinely good songs, but outside of that, everything else is pretty bland. The problem with Ten is that most of the songs follow the ‘Once’ pattern of song writing, when they should be following the ‘Even Flow’ formula.
Conversely, Nevermind starts sprinting out of the gate with ‘Teen Spirit’ and never lets up. By the time ‘Polly’ comes around as a welcome pit stop 6 songs in, the listener has enough time to catch their breath and then ‘Territorial Pissings’ sets them off sprinting again. It is a really, incredibly brilliant album, one that I had lost appreciation for over the years but have now regained. And can we get some love for Dave Grohl’s drumming for a second? Holy crap, that guy is ridiculous.
Nevermind just sounds like it has more to say and a more unique way of saying it than Ten, and it’s obvious that while one album—Ten—was a product of the 90’s grunge movement, the other—Nevermind—transcends it. Ten sounds dated and corny at times, Nevermind still sounds fresh and sincere.
To be fair, Nevermind was Nirvana’s second album and Ten was Pearl Jam’s first effort so they were still learning how to hone their sound. But even listening to Pearl Jam’s sophomore record, Vs., it’s clear that they were still light years behind Nirvana.
With all that said,Pearl Jam was an obviously influential band with a unique sound. I just don’t think that musically and lyrically, they are anywhere close to Nirvana. They do write some good singles, but the problem is that if you put all of Pearl Jam’s hits on one album and then put that album up against Nevermind by itself, Nevermind would win.
There have been lots of debates over which band is better, Pearl Jam or Nirvana? In my mind, it’s not even close. Nirvana. Every time.