Pearl Jam, Ten

No alternative band likes to be a prototypical anything because everyone's a special snowflake, but this album set the aesthetic a billion acts consciously aped for a decade to follow and arguably none of Pearl Jam's own follow-ons transcended it either. Despite the fact contemporary listeners might find it comparatively sedate or maybe even slow, and the production isn't always dynamically adventurous, the album delivers with weighty themes, McCready/Gossard's skillful guitar riffs and the bassy, groaning vocals of Eddie Vedder. The grind is good when it's hopping ("Even Flow," "Deep"), and there's a surprising amount of philosophical thought ("Alive") mixed with genuinely tender, raw emotion (from the conflicted eroticism of "Black" to the aspirational nostalgy in "Release"), at least when it doesn't devolve into amorphous angst ("Once," to its detriment). In fact, that accessible level of emotion is the strongest part of the album, translating unobstructed by artifice even when the band's stylistic reach gets past their grasp (the harmonic ambiguities of "Oceans" get an A for effort but an incomplete for melody). It's why a single like "Jeremy" succeeded: despite, or perhaps because of, the childlike lyrics and the disturbing subject matter, you could feel the buried anger fume in every string and syllable, and for five minutes we were all that tortured kid together. Indeed, exactly that sort of effortless auditory transference is why this album still succeeds today. The 2009 reissue adds a few Mookie Blaylock demos from the interregnum between Mother Love Bone and this incarnation; they are inferior to the worthy B-sides and session outtakes that are also included (especially "Brother," which really should have been included to start with). Although the iTunes re-release's live bonus tracks make for a solid show, the physical reissue is really the one most fans will enjoy more, though the replica cassette and LP inclusions might be a little much. (Content: F-bombs, adult themes, violence.)