December 12, 2017

Love Battery - Dayglo (1992) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Grunge
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1992 Sub Pop
AllMusic Review by Matt Carlson
Released on the verge of Seattle's becoming a buzzword in early 1992, Love Battery's second LP, Dayglo, was lost in the shuffle of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Mudhoney, which is unfortunate, because the record is a brilliant amalgamation of Northwest rock and Beatles-styled pop psychedelia. Tracks like "Out of Focus," "Foot," and "Blonde" swirl with dizzying pace and guitar effects. "See Your Mind" and "Cool School" add to the other tracks' intricacies with a more standard hard rock approach. Though the subtle nature of Kevin Whitworth's guitar and Ron Nine's slurred words may take a while to sink in, Dayglo is imbued with a highly energetic style and creative force.

tags: love battery, dayglo, 1992, flac,

Love Battery - Far Gone (1993)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Grunge, Psychedelic Rock
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© 1993 Sub Pop
AllMusic Review by Matt Carlson
After Love Battery's steady improvement between 1991's Between the Eyes and the following year's excellent project Dayglo, one would figure that 1993's Far Gone would also improve. Unfortunately, Far Gone loses some of the interesting complexities buried in the mix of Dayglo and instead concerns itself with a more blocky, bigger rock sound that isn't nearly as creative. Though Kevin Whitworth's psychedelic lead-guitar punctuations are still steady on "Half Past You" and "Float," most of the songwriting on this album is sloppy, and the mix of instruments isn't as clearly defined. A disappointment.

tags: love battery, far gone, 1993, flac,

Love Battery - Straight Freak Ticket (1995)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Grunge, Psychedelic Rock
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© 1995 Atlas Records
AllMusic Review by Matt Carlson
Though certainly an improvement over the stiff Far Gone, Straight Freak Ticket still fails to match the creative level and fuzzy warmth of 1992's Dayglo. Of course, the explosive pop fury on the opening "Fuzz Factory" won't convince you of this, because that song is the best one Love Battery has ever written. From that point, however, things get bleaker, despite the band's Beatles influence being more pronounced than usual. On many of the tracks, singer Ron Nine seems lost; other songs are dull and biteless. Love Battery does manage to create some great pieces of pop music; these points are scattered throughout the album, however.

tags: love battery, straight freak ticket, 1995, flac,

Love Battery - Confusion Au Go Go (1998)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Grunge
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© 1998 C/Z Records
AllMusic Review by Chris Parker
After regressing from the creative height of their second album, Dayglo, Love Battery finally released an album worthy of their promise. Bringing back to the fore their shimmering psychedelic pop, their reduced commercial prospects ignited a fire beneath the band judging from the playing and energy manifested on the album. The addition of Dan Peters (Mudhoney) on drums definitely tightens the screws, and the reinvigorated rhythm section provides the perfect foundation for guitarist Kevin Whitworth's inspired flights of fancy, including, as on Dayglo, some of the best slide guitar work in alternative rock. This is a remarkably solid album, with not a throwaway track in the bunch. The band mixes it up between slower, thoughtful anthems ("Punks Want Rights," "Corporate Memo"); roaring, soaring, punk-fueled raves ("Snipe Hunt," "Cute One"); and rich psychedelic pop excursions ("Faithfull," "Confusion Au GoGo"). Even new directions are well-rendered, as evidenced by the appropriately bluesy "Colorblind," "Guilty of Everything," a slow-burn number riding a Bo Diddley beat, and "Monkey Brain," which incorporates harmonica into its acid-addled thrall. Ron Nine's vocals are more focused than ever, and all the songs are actually about something. If this album had been released in 1993 as their follow-up to Dayglo, it'd be on the tips of many lips rather than the answer to the sadly unasked question: Where are they now?

tags: love battery, confusion au go go, 1998, flac,

Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger (1991)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Grunge, Hard Rock
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© 1991 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey
Bidding for a popular breakthrough with their second major-label album, Soundgarden suddenly developed a sense of craft, with the result that Badmotorfinger became far and away their most fully realized album to that point. Pretty much everything about Badmotorfinger is a step up from its predecessors -- the production is sharper and the music more ambitious, while the songwriting takes a quantum leap in focus and consistency. In so doing, the band abolishes the murky meandering that had often plagued them in the past, turning in a lean, muscular set that signaled their arrival in rock's big leagues. Conventional wisdom has it that despite platinum sales, Badmotorfinger got lost amid the blockbuster success of Nevermind and Ten (all were released around the same time). But the fact is that, though they're all great records, Badmotorfinger is much less accessible by comparison. Not that it isn't melodic, but it also sounds twisted and gnarled, full of dissonant riffing, impossible time signatures, howling textural solos, and weird, droning tonalities. It's surprisingly cerebral and arty music for a band courting mainstream metal audiences, but it attacks with scientific precision. Part of that is due to the presence of new bassist Ben Shepherd, who gives the band its thickest rhythmic foundation yet -- and, moreover, immediately shoulders the departed Hiro Yamamoto's share of songwriting duties. But it's apparent that the whole band has greatly expanded the scope of its ambitions. And Badmotorfinger fulfills them, pulling all the different threads of the band's sound together into a mature, confident, well-written record. This is heavy, challenging hard rock full of intellectual sensibility and complex band interplay. And with their next album, Soundgarden would learn how to make it fully accessible to mainstream audiences as well.

tags: soundgarden, badmotorfinger, bad motor finger, 1991, flac,

Soundgarden - Superunknown (1994)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Grunge, Hard Rock
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© 1994 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey
Soundgarden's finest hour, Superunknown is a sprawling, 70-minute magnum opus that pushes beyond any previous boundaries. Soundgarden had always loved replicating Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath riffs, but Superunknown's debt is more to mid-period Zep's layered arrangements and sweeping epics. Their earlier punk influences are rarely detectable, replaced by surprisingly effective appropriations of pop and psychedelia. Badmotorfinger boasted more than its fair share of indelible riffs, but here the main hooks reside mostly in Chris Cornell's vocals; accordingly, he's mixed right up front, floating over the band instead of cutting through it. The rest of the production is just as crisp, with the band achieving a huge, robust sound that makes even the heaviest songs sound deceptively bright. But the most important reason Superunknown is such a rich listen is twofold: the band's embrace of psychedelia, and their rapidly progressing mastery of songcraft. Soundgarden had always been a little mind-bending, but the full-on experiments with psychedelia give them a much wider sonic palette, paving the way for less metallic sounds and instruments, more detailed arrangements, and a bridge into pop (which made the eerie ballad "Black Hole Sun" an inescapable hit). That blossoming melodic skill is apparent on most of the record, not just the poppier songs and Cornell-penned hits; though a couple of drummer Matt Cameron's contributions are pretty undistinguished, they're easy to overlook, given the overall consistency. The focused songwriting allows the band to stretch material out for grander effect, without sinking into the pointlessly drawn-out muck that cluttered their early records. The dissonance and odd time signatures are still in force, though not as jarring or immediately obvious, which means that the album reveals more subtleties with each listen. It's obvious that Superunknown was consciously styled as a masterwork, and it fulfills every ambition.

tags: soundgarden, superunknown, super unknown, 1994, flac,

Soundgarden - Down On The Upside (1996)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Grunge, Alternative Rock
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© 1996 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Superunknown was a breakthrough in many ways. Not only did the album bring Soundgarden a new audience, it dramatically expanded their vision, as well as their accomplishments. If Down on the Upside initially seems a retreat from the grand, layered textures of Superunknown, let it sink in. The sound of Down on the Upside is certainly more immediate, but the band hasn't returned to the monstrous, unfocused wailing of Louder Than Love. Instead, they've retained their ambitious song structures, neo-psychedelic guitar textures, and winding melodies but haven't dressed them up with detailed production. Consequently, Down on the Upside is visceral as well as cerebral -- "Rhinosaur" goes for the gut, while "Pretty Noose" is updated, muscular prog rock. Down on the Upside is a deceptive album -- it might seem like nothing more than heavy metal, but a closer listen reveals that Soundgarden haven't tempered their ambitions at all.

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Public Enemy - Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black (1991)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Conscious Rap, Political Hip-Hop
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© 1991 Def Jam/Columbia Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Coming down after the twin high-water marks of It Takes a Nation of Millions and Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemy shifted strategy a bit for their fourth album, Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black. By and large, they abandon the rich, dense musicality of Planet, shifting toward a sleek, relentless, aggressive attack -- Yo! Bum Rush the Show by way of the lessons learned from Millions. This is surely a partial reaction to their status as the Great Black Hope of rock & roll; they had been embraced by a white audience almost in greater numbers than black, leading toward rap-rock crossovers epitomized by this album's leaden, pointless remake of "Bring the Noise" as a duet with thrash metallurgists Anthrax. It also signals the biggest change here -- the transition of the Bomb Squad to executive-producer status, leaving a great majority of the production to their disciples, the Imperial Grand Ministers of Funk. This isn't a great change, since the Public Enemy sound has firmly been established, giving the new producers a template to work with, but it is a notable change, one that results in a record with a similar sound but a different feel: a harder, angrier, determined sound, one that takes its cues from the furious anger surging through Chuck D's sociopolitical screeds. And this is surely PE's most political effort, surpassing Millions through the use of focused, targeted anger, a tactic evident on Planet. Yet it was buried there, due to the seductiveness of the music. Here, everything is on the surface, with the bluntness of the music hammering home the message. Arriving after two records where the words and music were equally labyrinthine, folding back on each other in dizzying, intoxicating ways, it is a bit of a letdown to have Apocalypse be so direct, but there is no denying that the end result is still thrilling and satisfying, and remains one of the great records of the golden age of hip-hop.

tags: public enemy, apocalypse 91, the enemy strikes black, 1991 flac,

Public Enemy - Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age (1994)

*European release. 21 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Conscious Rap, Political Hip-Hop
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© 1994 Def Jam Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
If Greatest Misses was viewed as a temporary stumble upon its release in 1992, Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age was viewed as proof positive that Public Enemy was creatively bankrupt and washed up when it appeared in 1994. By and large, it was savaged in the press, most notably in a two-star pan by Touré in Rolling Stone, whose review still irked PE leader Chuck D years later. In retrospect, it's hard not to agree with Chuck's anger, since Muse Sick is hardly the disaster it was painted at the time. In fact, it's a thoroughly enjoyable, powerful album, one that is certainly not as visionary as the group's first four records, but is as musically satisfying. Its greatest crime is that it arrived at a time when so few were interested in not just Public Enemy, but what the group represents -- namely, aggressive, uncompromising, noisy political rap that's unafraid, and places as much emphasis on soundscape as it does on groove. In 1994, hip-hop was immersed in gangsta murk (the Wu-Tang Clan's visionary 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang, was only beginning to break the stranglehold of G-funk), and nobody cared to hear Public Enemy's unapologetic music, particularly since it made no concessions to the fads and trends of the times. Based solely on the sound, Muse Sick, in fact, could have appeared in 1991 as the sequel to Fear of a Black Planet, and even if it doesn't have the glorious highs of Apocalypse 91, it is arguably a more cohesive listen, with a greater sense of purpose and more consistent material than that record. But, timing does count for something, and Apocalypse did arrive when the group was not just at the peak of their powers, but at the peak of their hold on the public imagination, two things that cannot be discounted when considering the impact of an album. This record, in contrast, stands outside of time, sounding better as the years have passed, because when it's separated from fashion and trends, it's revealed as a damn good Public Enemy record. True, it doesn't offer anything new, but it offers a uniformly satisfying listen and it has stood the test of time better than many records that elbowed it off the charts and out of public consciousness during that bleak summer of 1994.

tags: public enemy, muse sick n hour mess age, 1994, flac,

December 11, 2017

Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush The Show (1995 Reissue)

*Reissued in 1995 by Def Jam Records. Track listing and mastering remains unchanged. 12 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Conscious Rap, Political Hip-Hop
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© 1987-1995 Def Jam Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Sometimes, debut albums present an artist in full bloom, with an assured grasp on their sound and message. Sometimes, debut albums are nothing but promise, pointing toward what the artist could do. Public Enemy's gripping first album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, manages to fill both categories: it's an expert, fully realized record of extraordinary power, but it pales in comparison with what came merely a year later. This is very much a Rick Rubin-directed production, kicking heavy guitars toward the front, honing the loops, rhythms, and samples into a roar with as much in common with rock as rap. The Bomb Squad are apparent, but they're in nascent stage -- certain sounds and ideas that would later become trademarks bubble underneath the surface. And the same thing could be said for Chuck D, whose searing, structured rhymes and revolutionary ideas are still being formed. This is still the sound of a group comfortable rocking the neighborhood, but not yet ready to enter the larger national stage. But, damn if they don't sound like they've already conquered the world! Already, there is a tangible, physical excitement to the music, something that hits the gut with relentless force, as the mind races to keep up with Chuck's relentless rhymes or Flavor Flav's spastic outbursts. And if there doesn't seem to be as many classics here -- "You're Gonna Get Yours," "Miuzi Weighs a Ton," "Public Enemy No. 1" -- that's only in comparison to what came later, since by any other artist an album this furious, visceral, and exciting would unquestionably be heralded as a classic. From Public Enemy, this is simply a shade under classic status.

tags: public enemy, yo bum rush the show, bumrush, 1987, flac,

Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Conscious Rap, Political Hip-Hop
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© 1988 Def Jam Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Yo! Bum Rush the Show was an invigorating record, but it looks like child's play compared to its monumental sequel, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, a record that rewrote the rules of what hip-hop could do. That's not to say the album is without precedent, since what's particularly ingenious about the album is how it reconfigures things that came before into a startling, fresh, modern sound. Public Enemy used the template Run-D.M.C. created of a rap crew as a rock band, then brought in elements of free jazz, hard funk, even musique concrète, via their producing team, the Bomb Squad, creating a dense, ferocious sound unlike anything that came before. This coincided with a breakthrough in Chuck D's writing, both in his themes and lyrics. It's not that Chuck D was smarter or more ambitious than his contemporaries -- certainly, KRS-One tackled many similar sociopolitical tracts, while Rakim had a greater flow -- but he marshaled considerable revolutionary force, clear vision, and a boundless vocabulary to create galvanizing, logical arguments that were undeniable in their strength. They only gained strength from Flavor Flav's frenzied jokes, which provided a needed contrast. What's amazing is how the words and music become intertwined, gaining strength from each other. Though this music is certainly a representation of its time, it hasn't dated at all. It set a standard that few could touch then, and even fewer have attempted to meet since.

 tags: public enemy, it takes a nation of millions to hold us back, 1988, flac,

Public Enemy - Fear of A Black Planet (1990)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Conscious Rap, Political Hip-Hop
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© 1990 Def Jam/Columbia Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
At the time of its release in March 1990 -- just a mere two years after It Takes a Nation of Millions -- nearly all of the attention spent on Public Enemy's third album, Fear of a Black Planet, was concentrated on the dying controversy over Professor Griff's anti-Semitic statements of 1989, and how leader Chuck D bungled the public relations regarding his dismissal. References to the controversy are scattered throughout the album -- and it fueled the incendiary lead single, "Welcome to the Terrordome" -- but years later, after the furor has died down, what remains is a remarkable piece of modern art, a record that ushered in the '90s in a hail of multiculturalism and kaleidoscopic confusion. It also easily stands as the Bomb Squad's finest musical moment. Where Millions was all about aggression -- layered aggression, but aggression nonetheless -- Fear of a Black Planet encompasses everything, touching on seductive grooves, relentless beats, hard funk, and dub reggae without blinking an eye. All the more impressive is that this is one of the records made during the golden age of sampling, before legal limits were set on sampling, so this is a wild, endlessly layered record filled with familiar sounds you can't place; it's nearly as heady as the Beastie Boys' magnum opus, Paul's Boutique, in how it pulls from anonymous and familiar sources to create something totally original and modern. While the Bomb Squad were casting a wider net, Chuck D's writing was tighter than ever, with each track tackling a specific topic (apart from the aforementioned "Welcome to the Terrordome," whose careening rhymes and paranoid confusion are all the more effective when surrounded by such detailed arguments), a sentiment that spills over to Flavor Flav, who delivers the pungent black humor of "911 Is a Joke," perhaps the best-known song here. Chuck gets himself into trouble here and there -- most notoriously on "Meet the G That Killed Me," where he skirts with homophobia -- but by and large, he's never been so eloquent, angry, or persuasive as he is here. This isn't as revolutionary or as potent as Millions, but it holds together better, and as a piece of music, this is the best hip-hop has ever had to offer.

tags: public enemy, fear of a black planet, 1990, flac,

December 10, 2017

Pearl Jam - Yield (1998)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Grunge
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© 1998 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Perhaps shaken up by the chilly reception to the adventurous No Code, Pearl Jam returned to straight-ahead hard rock on their fifth album, Yield. There remain a few weird flourishes scattered throughout the album, from the spoken word "Push Me, Pull Me" to the untitled Eastern instrumental bonus track, but overall, Yield is the most direct record the group has made since Ten. That doesn't mean it's the best. Pearl Jam have trouble coming up with truly undeniable hard rock hooks, and Eddie Vedder remains at his most compelling on folk-tinged, meditative numbers like "Low Light," "In Hiding," and "All Those Yesterdays." They also fall prey to their habit of dividing the record into rock and ballad sides, which makes Yield a little exhausting, even at its concise length. It also emphasizes the relative lack of exceptional material. Yield is more consistent than Vitalogy and No Code, but it doesn't have songs that reach the highs of "Better Man," "Corduroy," or "Who You Are." Ironically, the album doesn't rock hard enough -- "Do the Evolution" and "Brain of J." have garage potential, but there's more bite and distortion on Vedder's voice than there is on the guitars. It's hard to view Yield as a disaster, since Pearl Jam's conviction still rings true, but it's frustrating that journeyman tendencies have replaced the desperate, searching confusion that was the most appealing element of the band's music.

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Pearl Jam - No Code (1996)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Grunge
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© 1996 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
A strange phenomenon with anthemic hard rock bands is that when they begin to mature and branch out into new musical genres, they nearly always choose to embrace both the music and spirituality of the East and India, and Pearl Jam is no exception. Throughout No Code, Eddie Vedder expounds on his moral and spiritual dilemmas; where on previous albums his rage was virtually all-consuming, it is clear on No Code that he has embraced an unspecified religion as a way to ease his troubles. Fortunately, that has coincided with an expansion of the group's musical palette. From the subtle, winding opener, "Sometimes," and the near-prayer of the single, "Who You Are," the band reaches into new territory, working with droning, mantra-like riffs and vocals, layered exotic percussion, and a newfound subtlety. Of course, they haven't left behind hard rock, but like any Pearl Jam record, the heart of No Code doesn't lie in the harder songs, it lies in the slower numbers and the ballads, which give Vedder the best platform for his soul-searching: "Present Tense," "Off He Goes," "In My Tree," and "Around the Bend" equal the group's earlier masterpieces. While a bit too incoherent, No Code is Pearl Jam's richest and most rewarding album to date, as well as their most human. They might be maturing in a fairly conventional method, but they still find new ways to state old truths.

tags: pearl jam, no code, flac, 1996,

December 09, 2017

Pearl Jam - Ten (1991) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Grunge
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1991 Epic Associated
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey
Nirvana's Nevermind may have been the album that broke grunge and alternative rock into the mainstream, but there's no underestimating the role that Pearl Jam's Ten played in keeping them there. Nirvana's appeal may have been huge, but it wasn't universal; rock radio still viewed them as too raw and punky, and some hard rock fans dismissed them as weird misfits. In retrospect, it's easy to see why Pearl Jam clicked with a mass audience -- they weren't as metallic as Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, and of Seattle's Big Four, their sound owed the greatest debt to classic rock. With its intricately arranged guitar textures and expansive harmonic vocabulary, Ten especially recalled Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. But those touchstones might not have been immediately apparent, since -- aside from Mike McCready's Clapton/Hendrix-style leads -- every trace of blues influence has been completely stripped from the band's sound. Though they rock hard, Pearl Jam is too anti-star to swagger, too self-aware to puncture the album's air of gravity. Pearl Jam tackles weighty topics -- abortion, homelessness, childhood traumas, gun violence, rigorous introspection -- with an earnest zeal unmatched since mid-'80s U2, whose anthemic sound they frequently strive for. Similarly, Eddie Vedder's impressionistic lyrics often make their greatest impact through the passionate commitment of his delivery rather than concrete meaning. His voice had a highly distinctive timbre that perfectly fit the album's warm, rich sound, and that's part of the key -- no matter how cathartic Ten's tersely titled songs got, they were never abrasive enough to affect the album's accessibility. Ten also benefited from a long gestation period, during which the band honed the material into this tightly focused form; the result is a flawlessly crafted hard rock masterpiece.

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Pearl Jam - Vs. (1993)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Grunge
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© 1993 Epic Associated
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey
Pearl Jam took to superstardom like deer in headlights. Unsure of how to maintain their rigorous standards of integrity in the face of massive commercial success, the band took refuge in willful obscurity -- the title of their second album, Vs., did not appear anywhere in the packaging, and they refused to release any singles or videos. (Ironically, many fans then paid steep prices for import CD singles, a situation the band eventually rectified.) The eccentricities underline Pearl Jam's almost paranoid aversion to charges of hypocrisy or egotism -- but it also made sense to use the spotlight for progress. You could see that reasoning in their ensuing battle with Ticketmaster, and you could hear it in the record itself. Vs. is often Eddie Vedder at his most strident, both lyrically and vocally. It's less oblique than Ten in its topicality, and sometimes downright dogmatic; having the world's ear renders Vedder unable to resist a few simplistic potshots at favorite white-liberal targets. Yet a little self-righteousness is an acceptable price to pay for the passionate immediacy that permeates Vs. It's a much rawer, looser record than Ten, feeling like a live performance; Vedder practically screams himself hoarse on a few songs. The band consciously strives for spontaneity, admirably pushing itself into new territory -- some numbers are decidedly punky, and there are also a couple of acoustic-driven ballads, which are well suited to Vedder's sonorous low register. Sometimes, that spontaneity comes at the expense of Ten's marvelous craft -- a few songs here are just plain underdeveloped, with supporting frameworks that don't feel very sturdy. But, of everything that does work, the rockers are often frightening in their intensity, and the more reflective songs are mesmerizing. Vs. may not reach the majestic heights of Ten, but at least half the record stands with Pearl Jam's best work.

tags: pearl jam, vs, vs., 1993, flac,

Pearl Jam - Vitalogy (1994)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Grunge
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© 1994 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Thanks to its stripped-down, lean production, Vitalogy stands as Pearl Jam's most original and uncompromising album. While it isn't a concept album, Vitalogy sounds like one. Death and despair shroud the album, rendering even the explosive celebration of vinyl "Spin the Black Circle" somewhat muted. But that black cloud works to Pearl Jam's advantage, injecting a nervous tension to brittle rockers like "Last Exit" and "Not for You," and especially introspective ballads like "Corduroy" and "Better Man." In between the straight rock numbers and the searching slow songs, Pearl Jam contribute their strangest music -- the mantrafunk of "Aye Davanita," the sub-Tom Waits accordion romp of "Bugs," and the chilling sonic collage "Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me." Pearl Jam are at their best when they're fighting, whether it's Ticketmaster, fame, or their own personal demons.

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Pearl Jam - Riot Act (2002)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Hard Rock
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© 2002 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
In some ways, Riot Act is the album that Pearl Jam has been wanting to make since Vitalogy -- a muscular art rock record, one that still hits hard but that is filled with ragged edges and odd detours. Vitalogy found the band sketching out their ideas for their brand of artsy rock, separating bracing hard rock and experimentalism throughout that fascinating album, and since then they bounced between those two extremes: indulging themselves on No Code, over-compensating with the streamlined Yield. Here, they manage to seamlessly blend the two impulses together in a restless, passionate record that delivers musically and emotionally. If it doesn't announce itself as a comeback or a great step forward, it's because the changes are subtle -- it's a process of their post-Vitalogy sound finally gelling, not making an artistic breakthrough. Given the appealing but haphazard nature of their late-'90s work, it's quite satisfying to have a Pearl Jam album play as strongly as Riot Act, and again some credit must be given to drummer Matt Cameron. He enlivened 2000's Binaural, but his forceful drumming gives the weirder songs and ambitions support and urgency. Also, the production is the best in nearly a decade -- a warm, burnished sound filled with details that enhance the basic song instead of overwhelming them (in other words, it's not No Code, nor is it the Spartan Yield). Again, these are subtle shifts in sound, but they are notable and, given several plays, this does indeed seem like the richest record Pearl Jam has made in a long time.

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Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam (2006) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Hard Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2006 J. Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Nearly 15 years after Ten, Pearl Jam finally returned to the strengths of their debut with 2006's Pearl Jam, a sharply focused set of impassioned hard rock. Gone are the arty detours (some call them affectations) that alternately cluttered and enhanced their albums from 1993's sophomore effort, Vs., all the way to 2002's Riot Act, and what's left behind is nothing but the basics: muscular, mildly meandering rock & roll, enlivened by Eddie Vedder's bracing sincerity. Pearl Jam has never sounded as hard or direct as they do here -- even on Ten there was an elasticity to the music, due in large part to Jeff Ament's winding fretless bass, that kept the record from sounding like a direct hit to the gut, which Pearl Jam certainly does. Nowhere does it sound more forceful than it does in its first half, when the tightly controlled rockers "Life Wasted," "World Wide Suicide," "Comatose," "Severed Hand," and "Marker in the Sand" pile up on top of each other, giving the record a genuine feeling of urgency. That insistent quality and sense of purpose doesn't let up even as they slide into the quite beautiful, lightly psychedelic acoustic pop of "Parachutes," which is when the album begins to open up slightly. If the second half of the record does have a greater variety of tempos than the first, it's still heavy on rockers, ranging from the ironic easy swagger of "Unemployable" to the furious "Big Wave," which helps set the stage for the twin closers of "Come Back" and "Inside Job." The former is a slow-burning cousin to "Black" that finds Pearl Jam seamlessly incorporating soul into their sound, while the latter is a deliberately escalating epic that gracefully closes the album on a hopeful note -- and coming after an album filled with righteous anger and frustration, it is indeed welcome. But Pearl Jam's anger on this eponymous album is not only largely invigorating, it is the opposite of the tortured introspection of their first records. Here, Vedder turns his attention to the world at large, and while he certainly rages against the state of W's union in 2006, he's hardly myopic or strident; he's alternately evocative and specific, giving this album a resonance that has been lacking in most protest rock of the 2000s. But what makes Pearl Jam such an effective record is that it can be easily enjoyed as sheer music without ever digging into Vedder's lyrics. Song for song, this is their best set since Vitalogy, and the band has never sounded so purposeful on record as they do here, nor have they ever delivered a record as consistent as this. And the thing that makes the record work exceptionally well is that Pearl Jam has embraced everything they do well, whether it's their classicist hard rock or heart-on-sleeve humanitarianism. In doing so, they seem kind of old fashioned, reaffirming that they are now thoroughly outside of the mainstream -- spending well over a decade galloping away from any trace of popularity will inevitably make you an outsider -- but on their own terms, Pearl Jam hasn't sounded as alive or engaging as they do here since at least Vitalogy, if not longer.

tags: pearl jam, pearl jam album, 2006, flac,

Pearl Jam - Binaural (2000)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
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© 2000 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
anything, Pearl Jam was even more in the wilderness -- at least as far as the mainstream was concerned -- at the beginning of 2000 than they were in the second half of the '90s. Even with "Last Kiss," their first big hit single since Ten, under their belts, they were an anomaly on the pop and rock scenes. They were the only one of their old grunge colleagues still standing intact, and they were genuinely alone. No peers, and too sincere to even consider fitting into a pop scene dominated by 'N Sync on one side and Limp Bizkit on the other. Not surprisingly, they chose to persevere, ignoring trends, completely in favor of being a classicist rock band. This should come as no surprise, since that's what they've done since No Code and, perhaps, Vitalogy, but the real surprise about their sixth studio album Binaural is that it finds the group roaring back to life without dramatically changing the direction they followed on No Code and Yield. Maybe the addition of a new drummer, former Soundgarden member Matt Cameron, has kicked the band to life, but that unfairly dismisses Jack Irons' worthy contributions. Instead, the difference is focus -- though Pearl Jam is trying a lot of different styles, certainly more so than on Yield, they pull it all off better. The songs are sharper, the production is layered, and the performances are as compassionate as ever, resulting in their finest album since Vitalogy.

tags: pearl jam, binaural, 2000, flac,