Photo by Kevin Mazur

Pearl Jam Albums, Ranked

August 2, 2018

Asking someone to choose their favorite Pearl Jam album is like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. Sure, we all know it isn't Binaural, or Baby Andy the Bed Wetter, but after that, it's really a toss-up.

With that said, to celebrate the greatest band in the history of the world, the band I've seen in concert over 20 times, the band that made everyone want to wear flannel and move to Seattle long before Amazon ever did, here is the entire Pearl Jam catalog, ranked.

10. Binaural

Even though it brings up the rear, there are still a few gems on the album. I remember this being the first PJ album I really struggled to get in to. Eddie had writer's block, Mike was in rehab, just a disjointed album overall. 

Put these on your playlist: "Breakerfall," "Light Years"
You gotta see it live: "Nothing As It Seems"

9. Lightning Bolt

PJ's most recent addition to the catalog, and though it ranks this low on the list, it's not to say this album isn't good. In fact, you could argue that "Sirens" and "Mind Your Manners" are two of the best PJ songs not featured on the Big 3 (Ten, Vs., Vitalogy)

Put these on your playlist: "Sirens," "Mind Your Manners"
You gotta see it live: "Sirens"

8. Riot Act

TBH Riot Act lands at number seven based on the strength of two songs, "Save You" and "Love Boat Captain." Riot Act is kind of all over the place, a little folky, a lot protesty, but solid front-to-back. Bonus points for "You Are," the most blatantly Stone-Gossard-to-the-point-it-could-be-a-Brad-song since "20th Century," which is a Brad song. 

Put these on your playlist: "Save You," "Love Boat Captain"
You gotta see it live: "Love Boat Captain" (Boooooooom!!!)

7. Avocado

Ok so this is really a self-titled album, but most people refer to it as Avocado and to me, this is an album full of hidden gems heavily influenced by punk rock. On top of that, "Come Back" is an absolute tear jerker. Actually, upon further review, this could easily be the most overlooked album in the catalog. 

Put these on your playlist: "Come Back," "Big Wave," "World Wide Suicide"
You gotta see it live: "World Wide Suicide"

6. Backspacer
The album most likely to get a passive Pearl Jam fan to say "Now that's the Pearl Jam I know and love!" Quite frankly, this is far and away the best album the band has made in the 21st Century. Hard hitting right out of the chute, you don't even get a chance to catch your breath until the fifth song! 

Put these on your playlist: "Got Some," "The Fixer," "Just Breathe," "Unthought Known," "Supersonic"
You gotta see it live: "The Fixer"

5. No Code

Personally, I feel No Code is incredible, but it was such a departure from the sound of the previous three albums that it really didn't get a fair shake by a lot of people. Plus "Who You Are" was a TERRIBLE choice for a single, in my opinion. It's been my crusade to get this record the respect it deserves for years because once you get past the "This doesn't sound like the first three records" thing, it's an incredible work. The album art is great (remember when album art mattered?) and to me, No Code sounds WAY better today than it did when it was released. The songs hold up! Especially "Hail Hail" and "Smile. " Plus how can you not love an album that has "Lukin" on it? If you have issues with where this is on the list, go back and listen to No Code again, you'll be surprised. 

Put these on your playlist: "Hail Hail," "Smile," "In My Tree," "Off He Goes," "LUKIN!!!!!"
You gotta see it live: "LUUUUUUUKIN!!!!!!"

4. Vitalogy

We have reached the splitting hairs portion of the list now, where you could really arrange these in any order you want and be totally justified. Vitalogy goes here for me because I can't listen to this album without thinking about all the turmoil that was going on behind the scenes. Eddie starting to take control as the leader of the band but also struggling with mega superstar status and complete loss of privacy (the theme of the album.) The death of Kurt Cobain. The firing of Dave Abbrusezze. And of course the whole Ticketmaster thing. Fortunately for all of us, the guys somehow kept it together and ended up releasing an angry album absolutely packed with bangers that continue to be staples of the PJ live catalog. 

Put these on your playlist: "Spin the Black Circle," "Not for You," "Nothingman," "Better Man," "Courderoy," "Immortality"
You gotta see it live: "Better Man" Cool story - Eddie played solo at the 1999 Tibetan Freedom Concerts and before he played Better Man, he brought kids up from the crowd to help him. Of course later we all found out they were plants, but at the time I thought it was the coolest thing that had ever happened at a concert. 

3. Yield

Once No Code took the hit for the album that changed the sound of Pearl Jam, they boys came back with Yield and blew our socks off. This was Pearl Jam 2.0 perfected. The rest of the band took a bit of creativity back and it shows. This is PJ coming to terms with all of it, yielding to getting older/being too famous/sitting at the head of the "grunge" table. THEY MADE A MUSIC VIDEO FOR GOD SAKE!  This album is the sound of an arena band who doesn't really want to be known as an arena band (at the time) coming to terms with the fact that they will never be small enough to play The Moore anymore. I also highly recommend reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn if you REALLY want to get deep into the themes of Yield. 

Put these on your playlist: Brain of J, Given to Fly, In Hiding, Do the Evolution
You gotta see it live: Wishlist. 

2. Vs.

Maaaaaaaaan what an album!  Quite possibly the greatest follow-up to a breakthrough record ever?  Fastest-selling record of all time (at the time) and for good reason.  Not one skip track.  A masterpiece. To me, Vs. is so good that if it came out before Ten, it would be considered their best. Every bit as aggressive and hard as Ten, but with a little seasoning, a little more dynamic. There's always that fear when your favorite band follows up a classic, by the end of the first song, no one was worried. 

Put these on your playlist: Go, Animal, Daughter, Dissident, Rearview Mirror, Elderly Woman...., Leash
You gotta see it live: Daughter, of course!  Waiting to find out what song they are going to cover in the middle is one of the best parts of every show. 

1. Ten

Not just the greatest PJ album of all time, but you could make a damn good argument that it's the best debut album in the history of rock and roll.  Everything about Ten is fantastic.  It's raw, it's emotional, uncompromising. It's an absolute moment in time.  Those of us that were around when Ten dropped know that Pearl Jam, along with Nirvana and other Seattle bands, caused a shift in pop culture. Can you imagine? These dudes didn't show up to the party ringing the doorbell, they kicked down the door, spiked the drinks, and turned everything up to eleven. Cultural icons before Eddie could properly pronounce "Sequim" I bet!  The world was sick of glam and hair metal, it wanted substance, and Pearl Jam gave it to them. Seattle gave it to them! Eddie's lyrics, Jeff's groove, Stone's riffs, and Mike's relentless solos. This album, quite simply, is it. 

Put these on your playlist:  All of them. 
You gotta see it live: "Alive" is particularly amazing live because it usually ends in an entire stadium of people chanting "Yeah" while Mike shreds the final solo.  

Tweet at The End
Tweet at Manley