Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Birthday, Luigi!

Happy Birthday, Ludwig van Beethoven!

In years past, I have highlighted pieces such as the Appassionata Sonata and his Wellingtons’ Victory, which show both the passionate side of Beethoven as well as his tongue-in-cheek humorous one. This year I thought I’d help round out the picture by trying something different – I want to attempt to explore more about Beethoven as a pianist rather than a composer. It’s something I, as a pianist, have wondered about but never actually researched.

You see, most classical composers were trained, and often prodigal, on the piano. They even made much of their living performing concerts of theirs and each others’ music. Beethoven was no exception. But what kind of pianist was he? What were his strengths and weaknesses?

We have to start by noting a fundamental point, and that is that Beethoven could play his own music. Only based on that can we truly deduce his talent as a pianist.

Schooled in classical keyboard technique, he no doubt was very skilled in many of the basic piano techniques, such as scales, arpeggios, trills, and finger dexterity and velocity. Call that the bar of entry for any performing pianist, and we see this on display in his earlier works, noting his first three piano sonata or bagatelles as examples.

It’s as we move to his later compositions that we really start to see signs of who he might have been uniquely as a pianist. First off, why the change? Well, I can venture to guess that:
- He was quite simply maturing as an artist and more confident in his own musical voice (i.e., more willing to show off his playing skills)
- The piano itself was an ever-evolving instrument, and he had to continue to change his compositional style to match the latest instruments, instruments which allowed for more display of skill perhaps
- He was becoming more “romantic” in his compositions and attitude on life and it allowed him to step out of traditional piano playing “boundaries” (i.e., throw the rules out the window)
- His hearing was deteriorating which, quite simply, caused him to have to play louder!

Regardless of the cause, in close examination of these later works, we can perhaps truly gather some clues in his compositions that might reveal who he might’ve been as a pianist (again, noting that he could play his own works):
- Chords rather than arpeggios: When you take a piece like the Appassionata, you can see that Beethoven had no fear of inserting bombastic chords into his writing. More evidence of this comes in works such as the Emperor Piano Concerto and Hammerklavier Sonata as well. That tells us that not only could newer pianos take the pounding, but that Beethoven must have had great finger strength and pianistic force to pull this off as a performer. Previous composers such as Mozart and Haydn rarely delved that deeply into powerful chords, opting more often to break up the chords.
- Broken octaves: another element we often see in his piano music is the use of broken octaves, rolling up and down scales. What I mean by this is rather than playing a C octave to a D octave to an E octave and onwards, what Beethoven will often do is break the C octave into first the low note and then the high note, do the same for the D, the E, and so on. It’s another skill that modern pianists have to learn – how to roll the wrists to achieve this but also how to constantly position your fingers so that each note is adequately prepared for. And when Beethoven used this technique, it often came at great velocity, which makes it even more difficult. A great example of this technique is in the 3rd movement of the Tempest Sonata (0:30 in and 1:00 in).
- Speed: Anyone who plays piano knows that sometimes it’s easy to get the notes under your fingers but you can’t seem to get them to move as fast as you need to. Beethoven clearly did not have this problem, and wrote music at presto tempos with little regard whether anyone else could ever play them. All he cared was that he could! A great example of this is the final stretch of the Pastoral sonata – a presto section with flying octaves in the left hand and arpeggios and rapid fire in the right. A short section, but a terribly treacherous one nonetheless. Clearly audiences would’ve been wowed by his ability to play this. A second example would be the final movement of the Appassionata sonata – a fury of intensity emerging from incredibly fast piano work!
- Repeated chords: I first heard Emanuel Ax discuss this point and it certainly got me thinking. The intro to the Waldstein Sonata features very rapid repetition of chords, and it is one of the trickier sections of piano music to master as a pianist. The technique was not often seen, certainly at this speed, in music previous to Beethoven’s, so it is logical for us to conclude that Beethoven himself could pull it off, perhaps uniquely so.
- Trills: another technique demonstrated in the Waldstein sonata, but this time in the third movement (1:00 in). In this movement, we hear the right hand playing double duty. The pinky is busy reprising the melody while simulataneously the thumb and first finger of the right hand plays a trill. This is an incredibly difficult technique, and though we don’t see it often in his music, to play this would’ve been another clear example of the skill he must’ve had as a pianist, far and above most others.
- Hand-over-hand: I remember as a student of the piano the first time I was introduced to the concept of having to take my left hand and cross it over my right hand. It was a totally foreign concept and caused my body to have to contort in all sorts of ways to get right! Beethoven had certainly mastered the technique, and wrote it into many sections of his works. I’ll reference the section about 0:30 in to the 3rd movement of the Appassionata (seen very clearly in the video below).
- Lack of staccato: I once read an interview with Beethoven’s friend (and awful biographer) Anton Schindler in which Anton suggested that Beethoven despised the use of staccato (very punctuated and sharp notes rather than smooth and flowing ones). That also got me thinking – you don’t often see staccato in his writing anywhere! Ok, occasionally it’s there (2nd movement of Pastoral sonata for example), but, in general, he stayed away. Perhaps this truly was a weakness of his. Perhaps his finger positioning did not allow him the “bounce” necessary to effectively play staccato, and thus he simply wrote more legato.

Well, that’s all I could come up with for now. Not an exhaustive list by any means, and I know others have devoted chapters and chapters to the subject, but I found it an interesting little research project for me to attempt and a nice way to celebrate his birthday this year. Whatever the case, by all accounts, Beethoven was one of the preeminent and most gifted pianists of his time (until he went deaf and all chaos broke loose)!

Some YouTube links to view the pieces I’ve cited (I tried to pick great versions, too!):
- Hammerklavier Sonata: (Brendel)
- Emperor Concerto (first movement): (Zimerman)
- Emperor Concerto (third movement): (Zimerman)
- Appassionata Sonata (first movement): (Barenboim)
- Appassionata Sonata (third movement): (Arrau)
- Tempest Sonata (third movement): (Kempff)
- Waldstein Sonata (first movement): (Gilels)
- Waldstein Sonata (third movement): (Brendel)
- Pastoral Sonata (second movement): (Brendel)
- Pastoral Sonata (fourth movement): (Brendel)

Hope you enjoyed the read, and I hope you can take a few minutes to listen to some of Beethoven’s music today in celebration and honor of the great musical titan that he was!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Beethoven s’en va-t-en Guerre

Each year, I try to find a new way to celebrate Beethoven’s birthday, and this year is the same. I dug deep this time, and found an extremely rare piece, that in the grand scheme of things can be easily written off as a work of little importance in the pantheon of Beethoven’s catalog, but I picked it because I think it shines light on several aspects of Beethoven’s life. From his need for public acceptance to his feelings of Napoleon to his dire financial circumstances even to his sense of humor, the piece indeed gives a Beethoven aficionado lot to think about.

The work is called “Wellingtons Sieg oder die Schlact bei Vittoria”, or “Wellington’s Victory, or, the Battle of Vitoria”. It was written around 1813, on the tail end of the famous “heroic period” of Beethoven’s composition, a period which included the 3rd through 5th symphonies, the 4th and 5th piano concertos, and other works of a grand scale. This piece had its premiere on the same night as the famous 7th Symphony in 1813.

The story goes that Beethoven was commissioned to write a military piece for a new instrument called the “panharmonicon”, which was known to be able to reproduce many instruments at the same time (an early synthesizer, perhaps?). Beethoven frankly needed the money, and wrote this piece as a commemoration of the Duke of Wellington’s victory over Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother) at the Battle of Vitoria, earlier that same year.

For the subject matter, why did he choose this specific battle to celebrate? I believe this particular conflict held something special for him, given his own feelings towards Napoleon. When composing the Eroica symphony, Beethoven was in a period of his life where he absolutely revered Napoleon and his will, and wanted to compose a hero’s symphony as a result. Beethoven even titled the work “Bonaparte”, a fact which can be seen on the manuscript today. When he found out that Napoleon had declared himself emperor, Beethoven was so disgusted that he scratched out the word “Bonaparte” from the symphony so vigorously that it created a hole in the document. His feelings towards Bonaparte turned very ill, and I think this carried beyond Napoleon himself and projected onto any Bonaparte he could find. Joseph was the latest victim, and this Battle of Vittoria was just the event he needed. Beethoven chose this as another forum for expressing his deep-seeded hatred towards Napoleon.

So, Beethoven wrote this piece for the panharmonicon, took his money, and that was that. Turns out, the story continued. Audiences began falling in love with the piece, laden with familiar melodies such as “God Save The Queen” (or, for us here in the USA, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”), “Rule Brittania”, and “Marlbrough s’en va-t-en Guerre” (“Marlbrough has left for war”), a tune now more commonly known as “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”. After seeing this, Beethoven himself decided to revisit the piece, and orchestrated it for mass performance. The Viennese loved it. Beethoven was said to have disliked this piece – so why continue with it? I believe there was of course a financial precedent here, but I also believe that Beethoven couldn’t resist the audience loving the piece, and, therefore, him. He loved the public acceptance.

Finally, I theorize that this piece shows a softer side of Beethoven. I believe that a German composer picking those familiar melodies and writing a piece that is essentially a “pop tune” showed his sense of humor. Pretty clearly a tongue-in-cheek work for a composer who seemingly couldn’t write anything that lacked substance and grandeur!

You can listen the piece, in two parts, at the links below. On first listen, you should certainly catch a lot of similarities to Tchaikovsky’s famous “1812 Overture” (also hated by its composer, coincidentally). I wonder if Tchaikovsky may have used this Beethoven piece as a blueprint for how to write a military commemoration piece?

Until next year, I’ll leave it at this: you never sounded better than you do at 239, Ludwig. Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Life In Five, Part 1: Johannes Brahms

I've decided to try a new series of writings, which I'm calling "A Life In Five". In this series, I intend to depict five key people, events, or things that shaped the lives and thereby shaped the music of the great composers. Consider it a "Cliffs Notes" version of their biographies.

In this first chapter, I focus on perhaps my favorite, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). Keeping in mind the intent of this series, if you're looking for a full biography, you can always check the trusty internet or pick up Jan Swafford's great biography.

So how would I sum up Johannes' life in five points? Here we go:

  1. A Childhood In Hamburg's Ports: Brahms' childhood playing the piano in seedier sailor bars amongst prostitutes not only shaped his virtuous piano and composing skills, but also developed within him a deep-seeded level of distrust and even misogynistic attitude towards women. It was to shape almost all of his future relationships with women, including the one who meant the most to him, Clara Schumann.

  2. Robert Schumann' Proclamation - "Germany's Musical Messiah": Brahms did not have much of a chance to slowly arrive on the musical scene. Shortly after arriving at Robert Schumann's doorstep as a 20 year old and playing his Scherzo in E-Flat Minor, Schumann declared him to be the next biggest thing and thrust him into the limelight, with a massive weight of expectations upon his shoulders. Considering the local giants before him (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann) and considering the current competition of Mendelssohn, Liszt and Wagner, it is amazing that Brahms didn't collapse under the weight instantly. Instead, he was somehow able to deliver against the expectations (or so most believed) and rise to the top. In many ways, this can be easily paralleled with today's often heard "The Next Michael Jordan" tag in basketball – the pressure that comes with that tag is immense and in the case that someone can answer that call, it is that much more impressive.

  3. Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner: Brahms' biggest musical (and personal) rivals. On the surface, it came down to an "old school" (Brahms) versus "new school" (Liszt and Wagner) approach to music composition. Brahms rejected the program-music that Liszt and Wagner championed in lieu of the more traditional music forms of their predecessors. Brahms did not respect Liszt's music nor did he respect Liszt as a person (despite limited cordial interactions), and by all accounts the feelings were equally harsh in reverse. Wagner is a bit more interesting, for as much as Brahms seems to have wanted to hate Wagner, it is known that at least a few of Wagner's operas had a great impact on Brahms and he had no choice but to respect them (Tannhauser and Die Meistersingers are two examples). Sometimes greatness can only be achieved with competition pushing you to new limits, and I believe that to be true in this case.

  4. A Best Friend - Joseph Joachim: While he had competition from Liszt and Wagner, he had support from not only the Schumann's but also a great friend in Joseph Joachim. Brahms was not always the nicest man, and in some cases didn't treat Joseph with the utmost respect (Joachim's divorce is an event where this is clear), but it is clear that Brahms admired Joachim as a talented musician (violin) and collaborator. Brahms' Violin Concerto is a towering achievement in the concerto repertoire, and without Joachim's assistance, it may never have existed, at least as we know it today. However, Joachim was not just another great musician – he grew to become a very close personal friend and confidant for Brahms throughout their lives.

  5. Clara Schumann: There is no more drama in Brahms' life than his lifelong relationship with Clara Schumann. So much of their relationship is shrouded in mystery, but enough has lasted to know that it is clear that Brahms loved Clara very deeply, at times romantically, at times as a friend, at times as a sister, at times even as a surrogate mother (she was several years his elder). He was often even perturbed by his feelings for Clara, especially in the guilt that it gave him towards his own mentor, her husband Robert. Nevertheless, there were no relationships in his life, including his parents and siblings, that meant more to him or affected him more than Clara. She tested out almost all of his works (she was an accomplished pianist), she attended premieres of his works, she was the judge for his male and female relationships, she loved him and equally scolded him. For him, she was everything.

  6. (Cheating, sort of) A Demand For Perfection – Burning Many of His Works: We can only imagine how much more musical beauty could exist if Brahms wasn't so hard on himself and didn't burn so many of the works that he personally didn't approve of!

Well, there we have it. Brahms' life distilled down into what I believe to be the 5 most influential people and events in his life. Hopefully this list not only provides a deeper interest in learning about his life, but also a deeper appreciation for his music and the passion that he wrote with! Stay tuned for more in the series…

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Cure - 10:15, Saturday Night?

A few years ago, at the onset of 2006, I took stock of the shows I had attended and the bands I had seen. At that time, there were 3 bands I hadn’t seen that I regretted not having seen. These were three bands/artists who I had liked for a very long time and heard great things about live performances but just hadn’t gotten around to seeing them for various reasons.

Last year, 2007, I saw that all three had announced tours – Bjork to backup her new album “Volta”, Rage Against The Machine for no obvious reason, and The Cure to backup the (as of yet) untitled new record. In one year, I could single handedly check-off my live music wishlist!

Around the summer time, sadly, The Cure cancelled their tour and rescheduled for 2008 – vowing to revisit their plans and create an even better experience for the fans.

And so, last night, after a long wait, my list was completed, as The Cure indeed came back around and played in Chicago.

And played indeed. For 3 hours, across a main set and 3 encores, they took stock of their entire career and went all the way back to the beginning, and I mean ALL the way back to the late 70s, and their first 3 singles – “Killing An Arab”, “Boys Don’t Cry”, and “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”. No frills. Just the four of them playing the music – Robert Smith, Porl Thompson on guitar (back after a long absence), Simon Gallup on bass, and [relative newcomer] Jason Cooper on drums. No synthesizers, save for the occasional backdrop such as on “Close To Me” and very little in the way of lights and visuals.

While the older songs thrilled most of us fans, a few new songs gave us a glimpse of what to expect on the forthcoming album, supposedly due in the fall. And in between (pun fully intended), they threw in almost all the pop songs that made them famous, including one stretch of “Lovesong”, “Pictures Of You” and “Lullaby” (all from “Disintegration”) and a second exhilarating stretch of “Friday I’m In Love”, “In Between Days”, and “Just Like Heaven” in a row (how’s that for piling it on)?

Robert apologized several times for what he perceived to be a lackluster performance due to vocal problems, but, from my vantage point, it sounded exactly as I hoped it would.

And now that the whistle is wet, I get to see them again in NYC in 2 months!

1. Plainsong
2. Prayers For Rain
3. alt.end
4. A Night Like This
5. The Walk
6. The End Of The World
7. Lovesong
8. Pictures Of You
9. Lullaby
10. The Perfect Boy (new)
11. From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea
12. Hot Hot Hot!!!
13. Sleep When I’m Dead (new)
14. Push
15. Friday I’m In Love
16. In Between Days
17. Just Like Heaven
18. Primary
19. Never Enough
20. The Only One (new)
21. Wrong Number
22. One Hundred Years
23. Disintegration

Encore 1 (“Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me”):
1. In Only Tonight We Could Sleep
2. The Kiss

Encore 2:
1. The Lovecats
2. Freak Show (new)
3. Close To Me
4. Why Can’t I Be You?

Encore 3 (Where It All Started):
1. Boy’s Don’t Cry (second single)
2. Jumping Someone Else’s Train (third single)
3. Grinding Halt (third track, first album)
4. 10.15 Saturday Night (first track, first album)
5. Killing An Arab (first single)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I Was Wrong: Revisited

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I'd love to see music critics take a look back into history and admit that at times, they could be wrong.

Well, it looks like someone's listening! Check out this blog posting by Jim DeRogatis about this very topic.

The most revealing passage:
"As a critic, you receive an album advance a week or two before its release (at best; other times, you get it the day before). You listen as many times as possible, and then you present your emotional reaction in the intellectual form of a written review. (Some people would say there's very little intellect involved with some critics, but you know what I mean, I hope.)

After that, like any other fan, you live with that album for two weeks, two months, two years... and sometimes your opinion changes. Sometimes, you realize, 'This just isn't holding up.' "

Looks like the vault is open!

Monday, March 24, 2008

For The Love Of The Cello

In a previous article, I featured the double-bass and a few pieces that highlight the instrument. Today, I will focus on the cello, arguably my favorite instrument (save for the piano of course), and will chronicle what I would consider to be a good starter set of cello masterworks.

No list of great cello works could ever start without Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, so I’ll begin there. Also, note that this list only includes pieces that were originally written for the cello. There are many pieces that have been transcribed for the cello but weren’t originally intended as such. In the case of the Schubert Sonata for Arpeggione, this instrument does not exist today, and therefore this piece is most often played either on a viola or cello and I’m considering it eligible.

Masterworks for the Cello

  • Bach, Johann Sebastian – Suites For Unaccompanied Cello (esp Suite 1: Prelude and Suite 6: Sarabande)

  • Beethoven, Ludwig Van – Cello Sonatas 1-5 (Complete)

  • Brahms, Johannes – Cello Sonatas 1 and 2

  • Dvořák, Antonin– Cello Concerto In B Minor

  • Elgar, Sir Edward Elgar – Cello Concerto

  • Pärt, Arvo – Fratres for Cello and Piano

  • Penderecki, Krzysztof – Cello Concerto No. 1

  • Saint-Saëns, Camille – Le Cygne (The Swan) from “Carnival Of The Animals”

  • Saint-Saëns, Camille – Cello Concerto No. 1

  • Schubert, Franz – Sonata for Arpeggione And Piano (arr. For cello)

  • Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich – Variations On A Rococo Theme

  • There are plenty of good recordings of all these pieces which you can find on Amazon. In general, you can almost never go wrong with Rostropovich and the Elgar concerto seems to have been tailor-made for Jacqueline Du Pré. You can always contact me if you’re looking for some tips on recordings I love!

    Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    I Was Wrong

    Music critics hate to admit they are wrong. They are stubborn people with very strong opinions, and, of course, there is an arrogance that goes with their opinions that is hard to combat. After all, they do listen to far more music than almost anyone else, and, typically, have as much experience in music evaluation as the next guy. So shouldn’t their opinions be “right”?

    Well, more often than not, the great critics are not necessary “right” or “wrong”, but at least can backup their reviews with educated viewpoints. Statements like “it’s been done before” or “in 5 years no one will listen to this album ever again” are rooted in some level of history and facts. It is a fact that Interpol, for example, borrows a lot from Joy Division. That shouldn’t necessarily prevent anyone from liking Interpol, but, from a critical standpoint, certainly Interpol isn’t breaking new ground, which can negatively impact the overall review.

    With that, critics can be wrong, in a certain sense. Critics listen to a lot (a lot) of music at all times, but it is not often that they get the chance to revisit past albums, especially ones that they didn’t like the first time around. If you’ve got 100 albums to listen to and review this week and thus limited time to listen to others, why would you listen to an album you didn’t like the first time? Time is simply too precious.

    However, music doesn’t always operate in that manner. Just like beer, sometimes music can be an acquired taste – terrible at first but after multiple attempts, the beauty begins to reveal itself. In this article, I’m going to lay myself out there with a few albums that, quite frankly, I was wrong about. My initial opinions of these albums were not strong, and only after either urging from someone else or just time did I revisit them to realize that they really are wonderful works.

    Before I begin that, I’d like to highlight one instance that I wished critics would just ‘fess up to: Radiohead. I am proud to state that I’ve been a fan of Radiohead since “Pablo Honey” first came out, and when “The Bends” came out, I was very quick to hail its genius (I still consider it my favorite Radiohead album and it contains two of the best Radiohead songs – “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”). However, I was disappointed in the critical reviews. Most critics listed it as, at best, a decent outing from a fairly average band – but certainly not the groundbreaking one that I felt it to be. However, a few years later when “OK Computer” came out, not only were critics jumping on the bandwagon by hailing it as a modern masterpiece, they somehow rewrote history and claimed that they predicted this based on the strength of “The Bends”. And now, major magazines (you know who you are) look back on history and claim “The Bends” to be one of the great albums of the nineties. Huh? In no way am I disagreeing with the claim, of course, I just wish that critics could have the chutzpah to admit they were wrong on the first go round.

    With that off my chest, it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is, and here are three albums that I was simply wrong about.

    1. Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”
    When this album came out in 1991, it saturated the radio airwaves, right next to “…Teen Spirit” and Pearl Jam. “Under The Bridge” was a massive hit, and songs like “Suck My Kiss” and “Breaking The Girl” were gaining momentum. The trouble is, I was 14 at the time, never heard of this band, and was still fully immersed in my studies of classical music. My brother bought me this album in April 1992 for my birthday, and after a listen, I remember somehow exchanging it for Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” (I remember this vividly). I just didn’t care for this album – I guess I may have just written it off as another “band du jour” on the radio with a few hit singles.

    A few years later, I recall some sort of CD-buying binge in which this album found its way back into my collection. Listening to it again, I was amazed at the energy and dynamism of this album. It rocked! Flea’s bass lines were all over the place showing a healthy balance between classic slap-bass funk lines and straight-ahead rock ones, Frusciante’s guitaring had a very gritty and dirty funk sound, Chad Smith was pounding relentlessly on the drums (and metal plates as on “Breaking The Girl”), and Anthony’s vocals just blended perfectly on top. Songs like “Funky Monks” and “Naked In The Rain” had me bouncing off the walls. Even “Under The Bridge” had a freshness to it now that it was no longer being played on the radio stations every half hour on the half hour. This was a great album, and I had missed out on it during its prime. My initial opinions were (here we go), wrong, and I’m happy to admit it.

    2. My Bloody Valentine – “Loveless”
    Another 1991 outing, coincidentally. Again, I was 14 and never heard of this band (only later to learn that virtually no one had heard of this band at this time). It was only when I was in my early 20s that I started to hear people singing its praises as a masterpiece. Well, with the way people were talking about it, I had to give it a try.

    So I bought the album and popped it in. Excuse me? What was this? I actually thought that I had bought either a faulty CD or that my CD player was damaged. I remember turning to a colleague who turned me on to the album, and, after her asking what I thought, saying, “well, I think I got a broken copy.” She assured me I had not, and I just decided to give up for the time being.

    A few years later, I revived the album and decided to listen to it again. Suddenly, all these melodies were swirling around me and I felt like I was wrapped in a warm blanket. I started hearing guitar harmonics and overtones that created a soundspace I have never before heard. Songs like “I Only Said” and “Blown A Wish” are so breathtakingly gorgeous that even the thought of them warm the spirits. And as you learn more and more about the creation of that album, its genius is brought out even more – Kevin Shields truly created a masterpiece, and I’m glad I gave it a second chance.

    For my third choice, I’m going to take a different angle. This album is one that when it first came out, I was amongst the masses (masses) who thought it was a masterpiece. The more I listen to it, the more I wish I could’ve changed my earlier review…certainly this is going to be the most controversial of my three selections, but, …

    3. Pearl Jam – “Ten”
    Wouldn’t you know it, another 1991 selection! I’ll bet many will hear the words “Ten by Pearl Jam” and say “wow – amazing album!” without even flinching. However, I have to say, that at least for me, when I listen to that album now, I’m amazed at how bored I get. Songs like “Even Flow”, “Jeremy”, and “Alive” were considered landmarks, and, yet, they are pretty basic mid-tempo guitar-riff based songs. Nothing groundbreaking here, and I just don’t think time has served those songs well. Eddie’s singing, or lack thereof, starts to grate on me and I find that tenor voice to feel forced the more and more I listen to it. Granted, songs like “Porch” and “Release” still have a charm to them, overall, this is a boring album that might as well have been released in the mid 70’s with Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, and others. This album sounds like a collection of straightforward singer-songwriter/rock and roll songs with distortion and rock drums to spice it up.

    I realize that there are die hard Pearl Jam fans who would basically stone (pun fully intended) me to death over this claim, and I know there’s no stopping from “Ten” living on as one of the most groundbreaking albums of the alternative era, and Eddie and the boys will laugh at this claim all the way into the hall of fame, but I have to maintain my claim. I just can’t listen to this CD anymore without yawning. You want energy from Pearl Jam? Start with their next outing, “Vs”. I’ll take “Go”, “Animal”, or “Blood” against anything off “Ten” any day. I hold my opinions – we were all wrong about “Ten”. Yes, all of us.

    So, there you have it. I’ve admitted three of my errors. I’d still hope for others to follow suit – it’s okay to get something wrong now and then. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t even have “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” and “Loveless” in my collection…