If you didn’t know already, I’ve been playing drums for almost 20 years (I’m by no means amazing, but I am good). As a drummer, I have a tendency to pay attention to the drumming in most music, particularly at live shows. I’m not an expert but I know a good/solid/amazing drummer when I hear one, and also know when the drummer of a band is the weakest link.
With all of this said, I will admit that there are many recordings that I have not focused my attention on the drumming. Usually these are albums and recordings that I used to listen to when I was younger, or recordings that I have only listened to a few times. One of those albums would be Ten by Pearl Jam.
Now, I’ve listened to this album many, many times over the years, but probably less than five times straight through in the last five years, and rarely did I ever give the drums a solid listen. I mean, the album is fantastic, and when I listen to it I hear all of the music as one, not just different tracks. So it wasn’t until I watched the recent Pearl Jam documentary PJ20 that I really started to think about the drumming and the drummer (Dave Krusen) on the album.
If you’ve ever seen a Pearl Jam music video, a video of a live performance by them, or in concert after Ten was recorded, then you’ve never seen/heard Dave Krusen play drums for the band, besides on their first album (and assorted B-sides/outtakes from the sessions). Instead you’ve seen/heard Matt Chamberlain, Dave Abbruzzese, Jack Irons, and/or Matt Cameron behind the drum kit for the Seattle band. The reason is that Krusen left the band after they finished recording Ten, due to substance abuse issues.
So what am I getting at? Simply put, I’m not that impressed with Krusen’s drumming, comparatively to his successors.
Now this is by no means bashing Krusen as a drummer or his work on the album, because it’s solid and does nothing to diminish from the songs. However, it does not do much to enhance the songs, nor is his playing on the relative level of his bandmates. I mean, if you know anything about Pearl Jam, you know that the remaining original members (Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, and Jeff Ament) are insanely talented, and some of the best at their craft. So when I listen to ground-breaking music on Ten, I can hear that the weakest link is the drumming.
To put things in perspective, let’s compare the album version of “Alive”, which Krusen is drumming on, to the live version that was used in the music video, which has Matt Chamberlain (who for years I thought was Krusen) on drums. From the get go you can hear the difference. Chamberlain is much tighter than Krusen, and his fills are crisper and tastier. He’s enhancing the song without being overbearing. This is even more evident near then end of the song where McCready starts soloing, with Chamberlain throwing in a triplet feel fill.
Another comparison would be on three different versions of “Even Flow”: the album version with Krusen; the live music video version with Abbruzzese; the live version (from Live On Two Legs) with Matt Cameron. Now all three are totally different drummers, giving three different feels to the song. However, once again, Krusen’s playing seems to not give the same power and excitement to the song as the other two did. While Abbruzzese brings his signature syncopated fills and his love of crash cymbals to the song, Cameron is a steadier hand, laying an incredibly solid foundation with incredible intensity. In both cases, the drumming just tightens up the entirety of the song, whereas on the album version Krusen’s playing is more loose and open, and lacks intensity (though that snare fill right before the outro is SUPERB).
Now, it can be argued that it’s hard to compare the drumming of a studio album and live recordings. In many cases I would agree, since the energy and intensity of live shows usually far exceeds that of a studio recording. However, in this case, it is not so. If you compare Krusen to Abbruzzese (who played on the two studio albums that followed Ten, Vs. and Vitalogy), the latter’s drumming is much more intense, dynamic, expressive, and tight on studio recordings. I mean, imagine if that drumming (ex. “Animal” from Vs.) was on Ten…how much more powerful would tracks like “Even Flow,” “Why Go,” and “Porch” have been? (Though I will readily admit that “Porch” is pretty damn intense on the album.) Plus, shouldn’t drumming on a studio recording be tighter than a live recording since there is ample time and opportunity to get things perfect and/or use a click track? (If you want more evidence go look on YouTube.com for Pearl Jam’s Unplugged performance or them live at Pinkpop in 1992.)
You might still be wondering why this is even worth talking about since in reality it’s all hearsay. Well, for me it’s an interesting thing to talk about, especially since Krusen was only part of Pearl Jam for a small period of time, though that period of time was probably the most important for the band. Also, most bands don’t go through drummers the way Pearl Jam has gone through them (except for Spinal Tap), and if they do change personnel it’s usually a big deal. However, most people don’t even think about how different the band might have been had they continued on with Krusen for at least one more album, or never played with him to begin with, kind of like how people discuss what The Beatles would have been like if Pete Best was never fired and Ringo Starr was never part of the band. Though it’s all hindsight, it’s still fun and interesting to talk about.
So to conclude, let me just restate that in no way am I saying that Dave Krusen’s drumming is bad, because it’s not. His playing was incredibly solid, and set the tone for the drummers of Pearl Jam that followed him. Nor am I taking away from the deserved prestige and acclaim that Ten has garnered over the years, because I absolutely love the album, and it was incredibly influential in my life. What I am saying is that in comparison to his counterparts, Krusen was, musically, the weakest member of the band, and I just have to wonder how much better the album would have sounded with any of the other Pearl Jam drummers, particularly Dave Abbruzzese or Matt Cameron (who is probably the drummer that fits the band the best, which is probably why he’s had the longest tenure). But we’ll never know that, and I’ll just have to continue enjoying Ten the way it sounds, which is just fine by me.