Pearl Jam proves grunge may still be ‘alive’ with new tour

Jean Ellen Gismervik

Eleven years after its landmark album, “Ten,” grunge super-group Pearl Jam will release its seventh studio album. The still-untitled disc will drop Nov. 12 with the first single, “I Am Mine,” hitting the airwaves Sept. 17. They will follow it up with a world tour in 2003. Coincidentally, Pearl Jam is not the only early ’90s band earmarked “grunge” to resume activity. Classic grunge staple Mudhoney’s recent effort “Since We’ve Become Translucent” has received good reviews. We will be hearing a rumble from down under with Silverchair’s “Diorama” when it drops stateside this fall, and the Melvins hustle in with two new discs in 2002. With the combined efforts of so many that echo the Seattle sound, it’s hard not to wonder if grunge will be making a comeback and, if so, where will it fit into the turn of the century sound.

It was over a decade ago that a hair-band-saturated culture wondered if the rock ‘n’ roll well was all dried up. But all it took was a little Seattle rain to extinguish doubts that there was nowhere to go with a genre that went mainstream barely 50 years ago. From an incestuous pool of bands who could easily play three degrees of Eddie Vedder emerged a fuzzed-up concoction of chunky guitar riffs and guttural vocals that was distinguished from the indie rock scene as “grunge.”

The trend that seemed like such a hopeful rejuvenation of formula rock and rejection of candy pop was too inextricably linked to the fates of its forebears, and by the mid-’90s it split in two directions. Half of the grunge scene and most of its momentum would die alongside the same musicians who gave it life. The other half of this tight-knit family would go on to mourn the loss of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in 1994 followed by Alice in Chains’ Layne Stanley’s death eight years to the day later. Mother Love Bone’s Andy Wood and Mad Season’s John Baker Saunders would also die due to drug-related deaths. Although the losses were devastating, enduring bands such as Pearl Jam and Mudhoney would continue to release albums. Other bands fragmented and regrouped, such as Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, who stepped in after Zach de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, and Soundgarden guitarist, Jerry Cantrell who is presently opening for Creed.

In the meantime, the hair bands that grunge dethroned gave way to boy bands until the recent infusion of imported and domestic garage rock bands, such as the Hives and the Strokes, respectively. Presently the airwaves are awash in a confused tide of pop and punk rock, making 2002 a year that could go either way. In light of what could be another reincarnation of rock ‘n’ roll with strong enough electric guitar to temporarily defibrillate the heart of pop, the grunge gods are rallying. But will they appeal to garage fans?

But the album that could potentially make or break a next wave of grunge may never be heard. “I have the Holy Grail of rock ‘n’ roll,” claims Courtney Love who possesses 109 tapes of unreleased Nirvana material. Whether or not fans will ever hear any of the tracks depends on the outcome of the never-ending court battles between Cobain’s wife and former bandmates Krist Novelsic and Dave Grohl. But even with the combined efforts of grunge gods and godfathers, can its unique sound strike a similar chord with listeners ten years after its peak or was its momentum too defined by a particular time and place? There may be life after death for grunge, but can you wear a skinny tie with a flannel shirt?