Album cover of the week: Ten

As if I needed yet another reminder of how old I’m getting – 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of Ten, the debut album from Pearl Jam (although it wasn’t released until August ’91).   For many music fans this album (perhaps alongside Nirvana’s Nevermind) heralded the end of the Age of Hair Metal, which was either a good or bad thing depending on your outlook.

But rather than focus on the music, let’s take a look at the artwork from Ten.

This is the CD art that most of us are familiar with (especially since Ten has sold close to 10 million copies).  I’ve always liked this image, subtle as it is.  It effectively conveys the whole tight-knit, brotherhood sort of vibe I’ve always associated with Pearl Jam.  It’s a strikingly positive image, which stands in stark contrast to the rather grim lyrics found throughout most of the record.

Credit for the album’s art direction goes to bassist Jeff Ament, who also built the woodcut “Pearl Jam” the band is posing in front of (photography by Lance Mercer).  According to Ament, the plan for the cover was for the background to be more burgundy than pink, and for the group shot to be black and white.  But as usual, the record company won that battle.

Normally I rail against what the rise of the CD did to album art, but in this case I think an album actually benefits from less real estate.  Here’s the full image from Ten, which is only visible when you fold out the entire liner (click for larger version):

I think you can see what I mean here.  Instead of the timeless image we all know, this is a picture of five guys who look like they dress themselves with the lights off.  Totally negates what they were going for.  In fact, the band looks just as douchey here as many of the glam/hair metal bands they helped make disappear.

I do want to say one thing about the music in parting – please stop calling this and other albums of the era “grunge”.  That’s a BS term and means nothing.  Ten is updated ’70s stadium rock, not the beginning of some brand new musical movement.  And that’s not an insult either.

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2 Comments

  • Always loved that cover, and not just for the obvious “I’m a huge PJ fan” reasons. The fold-out works great because it’s not actually the cover, but looking at it always reminded me of the awkward vulnerability that was behind a lot of the anger in those early songs. Maybe I’m psychoanalyzing too much but there was such a sense of shyness behind their arena rock. But yes, the clothing was pretty bad.

    Now the new version of the cover works better with the “zoomed out” view because they got rid of the coloring for the band and picked a shot involving t-shirts that didn’t hang off the shoulder. I also like the fact that Ament’s hand is just reaching up in that picture as opposed to making a 1 – which did seem a little hokey.

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