What is with this “Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam” debate? I’m pretty sure the whole concept was invented by delusional Pearl Jam fans. I wouldn’t normally entertain such a silly comparison as this one, on par with “Beethoven’s 5th Symphony vs. MMMBop” or “Citizen Kane vs. Monkey Trouble“. Unfortunately, the idea that Pearl Jam is the superior band seems to be gaining steam among non-stoner frat guys, dudes who work in Marketing, and Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish. Let us take a look at each of these bands during various stages in their respective careers:
In fairness, some of these comparisons are close:
Ten contains two standout tracks, “Porch” and “Alive”, that are almost as good as “Territorial Pissings” and “Lithium” on Nevermind. The big difference is in the mega-hit singles, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Jeremy”. SLTS, though not Nirvana’s best, is a good, straight-forward rock song, whereas “Jeremy” does not really rock at all. These songs have relatively famous videos, both of which demonstrate the main point here–one band’s main goal is to rock, and the other band is trying to do something else, like weird me out with all these “whoooaaaa ooohhh AYE YA YA YAY YAY” vocal adlibs.
Unplugged in New York contains 6 stellar cover songs, but none of the Nirvana originals are on par with their previous recordings. Vitology, in typical Pearl Jam fashion, stumbles through a series of forgettable filler material; however, the record contains the exceptional “Corduroy” and the pretty-good “Better Man”. The difference ended up being Pearl Jam’s inexplicable decision not to include “Yellow Ledbetter” on this album. My guess is that Eddie Vedder was so pretentious, he figured the album would be good enough without it, and he wanted to make his fans shell out another $10 and buy the Jeremy CD single in order to hear one of Pearl Jam’s few excellent songs.
As for Pearl Jam’s later endeavors … ouch. It’s clear that the world would be better off if Eddie Vedder blew his brains out instead. In fact, It’s not really fair to compare these Pearl Jam albums to anything released by Nirvana (including posthumous efforts like the awesome With The Lights Out Box Set). Let’s give Pearl Jam another shot–this time against a more comparable opponent:
You can see that the first video is for the Britney Spears song, “Dear Diary” (which wasn’t even a hit single, by the way) and the second video is one of Pearl Jam’s lesser efforts, “Wish List”. Let’s compare these two tracks in a few different areas.
Vocally, I think the difference is obvious. Spears, while not exactly Aretha Franklin, exhibits a decent vocal range. She also doesn’t mind being a little adventurous, reaching for that high note every now and then. Vedder, on the other hand, does not once venture outside the one-octave range below middle C. He also has a bland, monotone quality about his voice, like he’s recording the vocals in his room and is afraid that his mom might hear him.
Lyrically, each song is very formulaic. Each verse begins, “I wish I was … blah blah blah” or “Dear Diary … there’s some dude I like … yadda yadda yadda …” I think ultimately they differ in terms of having a central message and conveying it effectively. Britney has a clear, concise point to make: I like some guy, and I’m writing about it in my diary. Vedder doesn’t really know what he wants to say, preferring instead to ramble like a drunk college freshman attempting to do his Philosophy 101 homework. He opens with the line: “I wish I was a neutron bomb for once I didn’t go off.” Who gives a shit? Bombs are bad, I know–make a fucking point and move on.
Musically, the advantage also goes to Spears. The production here is minimal but does the job and doesn’t put me to sleep. I like a good electric piano every now and then, and the harmonic structure is decent for a ballad with a few modular passing tones. In contrast, Pearl Jam has too many cooks stirring the harmonic pot. The entire verse goes:
E E D D E E D D E E D D E E D D F F F F F F F F
C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C
I’m not sure why you would need four musicians to play this. Also, it sucks. The drumming lacks creativity and is therefore unnecessary. The chorus contains some chords other than C, unfortunately they are a very predictable F & G.
This concludes my analysis of Pearl Jam’s musical canon. In closing, I’d also like to point out that I personally hate Eddie Vedder. I also hate the entire Vedder family (even the little kids), as they are guilty by association.