Pearl Jam is the most overrated thing ever

A new Pearl Jam album apparently came out yesterday, which meant it was a big day if you’re a boring white guy between the ages of 30 and 40.
I’m not trying to be a troll here, because when it comes to rock bands/musicians that annoy me, PJ is pretty far down the list. I don’t really have any problem with them. As we were reminded this week with the piece they did on ESPN, they all seem to be genuinely good dudes, and they definitely get some credit for their battles with Ticketmaster (even though that selfless act of fan loyalty is likely overblown).

Still, it’s amazing to me how many dudes that are roughly my age swear by the idea that Pearl Jam is one of the best rock bands of all time. That they have achieved legend status alongside influential acts like the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin.
In 2005, USA Today declared them the greatest American rock band of all time, which would’ve been a little like giving Bartolo Colon the Cy Young Award over Johan Santana (oh, wait, that happened that year, too).

Their popularity makes some sense. Pearl Jam was an actual rock band in basically the last dying days of MTV, rock stars and major record labels, when people my age were teenagers or college kids, impressionable youngsters that took our pop-culture cues from TV, radio, peers and the like. We were still waking up from the butt-rock 80s glam of Motley Crue and Poison. The grunge movement was an attractive alternative, if not so much for the music than because flannel looked better than spandex.


Ten’, their breakthrough debut album, was exactly the kind of thing that would appeal to a huge audience of adolescent and young adult males. Lots of guitars, heavy drums, a singer with a disaffected pose and cool name who grumbled in a way that was just masculine enough for dudes who felt like actual singing was unmanly.
Pearl Jam was for dudes who were too self-conscious to listen to pop (or anything sung by a woman), not rebellious enough for punk and too scared of chicks in leather to get into metal.

Pearl Jam are the dadrockingest everyman band that ever existed. They do not suck. They’re frighteningly unoriginal. They’re good guys, talented musicians who work hard and bring joy to a lot of people and that’s great. I hold them no ill-will.

I just.
Get it.
They are mediocrity, epitomized. Average. So, so average.

They’re Van Halen without the fun (or the guitar chops, if we’re being honest).
Nirvana without the punk spirit.
Stone Temple Pilots without the sex.

And all three of those bands are, themselves, overrated.

Pearl Jam is to the 90s and 2000s what Boston was to the 1970s and 80s. Rock n Roll by numbers.
They’re Levis. They’re McDonalds. They’re Bud Light. Immensely popular yes, but, largely, popular for being popular. Much like Dave Matthews Band, they’re the band that white people who aren’t that interested in rock music refer to when asked to name their favorite band. Because they’re safe. Unthreatening. Vanilla.
All the things Rock n Roll should not be.
They are this generations dad band, like Huey Lewis and Phil Collins were to our own dads (except without the melodies, or the lyrics that are actually sometimes fun to sing along to).
Their music is the sound of an overcast day. Of getting stuck in the mud. Of a dull but unending headache. Easy to ignore, but better just turned off.

I find it interesting that Nickelback and Creed are such frequent targets of unbridled and universal scorn, while Pearl Jam are widely admired, because to me, Pearl Jam sounds a lot like Creed.
Not quite metal or punk but harder than your typical pop/rock band, with boring, muddled riffs, nonexistent hooks and mumbled, guttural lyrics.

Seriously, tell me this doesn’t sound like pretty much half of the Pearl Jam catalog.

Before you tell me to ‘listen to more than just the singles’, which I’ve heard a thousand times, let me assure you, I’ve tried. Frankly, I’ve heard so many times from people who normally have good taste in music about how great Pearl Jam is that I gradually started to suspect that maybe I hadn’t given them an honest chance. That maybe there were a dozen album tracks out there that would finally make me understand what I was missing.

So Monday night, I tried again. I googled ‘greatest Pearl Jam songs’ and found this list. The comments at the bottom seemed to suggest it was a good list, but when I linked it on twitter, I heard from a few die-hards who said it wasn’t a great list.
So I asked, sincerely, for recommendations. What were the great songs I was missing?
I got plenty of responses, and spent two hours (that I will never get back), listening to Pearl Jam songs I’d never heard (and some I had but didn’t recognize by title) over and over.

I found two songs I liked. State of Love and Trust, and Worldwide Suicide.
The latter, especially, is really good.
Prior to that the only Pearl Jam songs I ever remotely liked were ‘Better Man’ and that 50s cover they did about 10 years ago that everyone (including PJ fans) got sick of almost immediately.

Alive? No.
Even Flow? Ugh.
Animal? Wrong.
Jeremy? Not bad.
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter? Sounding like Staind is not a good thing.
Dissident? Worse than a visit to the dentist.
Yellow Ledbetter? Most of us have heard a blues lick before.
Black? zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Those are the big ones, obviously, but trust me, I hit all the other ones, too. And while some were better than others, it was mostly the same boring riffs over Eddie’s croaking and mumbling.

I know what you’re thinking.
Zimmer, you hate everything.

Nope, I don’t. I like lots of stuff. Tons of stuff. More than you probably do.
Here, off the top of my head, is a list of American bands that I like more than Pearl Jam. I’m limiting it to American bands, for one to point out how stupid the USA Today list was, but mostly because if we included European bands and solo artists we’d be here all day.

The Replacements
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Social Distortion
Green Day
Guns N Roses
The White Stripes
Uncle Tupelo
Rage Against the Machine
New York Dolls
Jason & the Scorchers
Husker Du
The Dead Kennedys
Deer Tick
Big Head Todd and the Monsters
The Black Crowes
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
The Blasters
The Bottle Rockets
The Replacements

You’re welcome.