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  • Pearl Jam - Ten
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Here’s a fun fact for you: Pearl Jam’s first album Ten actually came out about a month before Nevermind, twenty years ago tomorrow (8/27). Both albums are getting plenty of press-noise for their respective anniversaries, with Nirvana’s album being celebrated by every music publication this side of Jazz Beat and Pearl Jam throwing themselves a few birthday parties with their Pearl Jam Twenty festival and documentary. And though Nevermind is getting the lion’s share of the attention these days, perhaps justly, I remember Ten being just as big a deal. Maybe a bigger one, and not just within my sixth-grade circle of friends. After all, when Time published its goofy alternative-rock cover story in 1993, it was Eddie Vedder who the magazine threw onto the cover.

In terms of cultural significance, both Nevermind and Ten were slow burners, with both of them really impacting the universe in 1992. Nevermind got there first, topping the Billboard chart in January. Ten took longer. Pearl Jam were on the Lollapalooza tour that summer, but they weren’t headlining. They were playing second on the main stage, with only Lush preceding them. And listening to it today, one of the striking things about Ten is how normal it sounds. While Nirvana had a burning sense of purpose that you can hear in Nevermind’s first notes, Pearl Jam sounded, more or less, like a mainstream rock band on a mainstream rock label. Or, more accurately, they sounded like what they were: A group of guys with punk-rock pedigrees trying their hand at making a canyon-spanning Great American Rock Album.

In its expansive riffage, Ten carries echoes of Pink Floyd and Tom Petty and Black Sabbath. Its production, long a matter of debate among fans, dates it to the moment when glam-metal was hitting its commercial peak, and there’s at least a whiff of cheese in its wheedling solos. (As a 12-year-old, I first read about Pearl Jam and Nirvana in the hair-metal magazine Hit Parader; make of that what you will.) But in Vedder’s roars and moans and mutters, there’s also the sense of an absurdly gifted singer doing everything he can to communicate transcendent truths, even if he’s not entirely sure what those truths are. When he sang “Jeremy” at the 1992 VMAs, sharing a stage with Bobby Brown and Def Leppard and En Vogue, he seemed like a man possessed, and his self-exorcising head-shaking performance is one I tried to replicate in my bedroom many, many times. That was the same show where Krist Novoselic threw his bass way up in the air and got hit in the head when it landed, and that was cool, but Vedder’s performance was the one that pretty much blew my mind.

Maybe the legacy of Ten isn’t that it’s one of those albums that changed everything. Maybe it’s that this band managed to make a deeply heartfelt rock album that resonated with a vast number of people. So even if it’s not a game-changer necessarily, it’s part of a proud lineage, one that includes Born to Run and Rumours and Graceland. It’ll be a dorm-room staple until long after we’re all dead.

But what do you, the readers, think of the album now? What’s your favorite Ten track? (Mine: “Black.”) Your favorite moment on the album? (Mine: The drawn-out moan on the “Black” intro?) Your favorite random memory of the album? (Mine: Learning who the Butthole Surfers were because Vedder wore the exact same Buttholes T-shirt in every press pic at the time.) Also, check out a few period-specific videos below.

Comments (45)
  1. I love this album, but I’m still kind of mad at Pearl Jam for influencing bands like Nickelback.

  2. is this any good?

  3. God I loved them. I haven’t liked their last few records, but I still stand by Pearl Jam with a vengeance.

  4. I remember when I was in 5th grade, me and my classmates were either all for Pearl Jam or all for Nirvana. Seeing how Eddie Vedder has aged into a ukulele player these days, I’m glad I was on Team Cobain. PJ had its moments though and this was one of them.

    • Is there something wrong about being a Ukulele player?

      • I actually think that Vedder has aged gracefully. Really enjoy his transition into folk.

        If you watch Cobain interviews he suggests that he was about to make the same move.
        More acoustic, more neil youngish.

        I remember that split too, I was a switcher who started as team PJ am moved over to Nirvana as I got a bit older.

  5. This album made me a PJ fan back when it came out and it hit me so hard as a teen that I can’t possibly have any objective opinion of it, nor can I have a favorite song or moment. It’s just a part of me. Yet I probably won’t ever listen to it again. I stayed with this band longer than the main audience I guess (which means I didn’t quit after Vitalogy) but their recent output — starting with the self-titled — doesn’t resonate at all with me and it kind of took me out of the “fans” crow. Vitalogy, Yield and Binaural are their most interesting albums to me and probably the only ones I would want to listen again.

    As to Vedder’s voice, he still has this special something, but only on quiet, acoustic numbers. Into The Wild was great. The Ukulele thing, though, not so much.

  6. I was like 3 when these albums came out, but my circle of friends in 8th grade was pretty big into grunge, and I am ashamed to say, nu metal. This was the year that System of a Down’s Toxicity came out, so while my metal-centric friends drooled over that album for months (I admit to being a fan when I was young and foolish, just not to the same degree) something that satisfied my need for good rock without pounding double bass at every opportunity.
    My dad had listened to Pearl Jam in the car cassette player as long as I could remember, and there was something more engaging and accessible to me about Vedder’s lyrics and style as compared to Cobain’s-even though his lyrics were even less intelligible than Cobain’s were. I also remember having deep appreciation for, as this article put it, Pearl Jam’s more traditional rock orientation, as opposed to the punk minimalism of Nirvana, the trio with a statement to make. There were also Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, who were good but never achieved the type of influence and importance of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and Rage Against the Machine, who I liked as a teenager for many of the same reasons I liked Pearl Jam. Were it not for the many cheap imitations of Vedder’s vocal style (see: Creed), I think the band would enjoy more distinction than they do today, especially among my generation who find it hard to differentiate them among the dozens of late-90s/early 00s imitators.
    I know this has been a blog post on its own and I appreciate anyone who took the time to read it. Real quick:
    Favorite Song: Black or Why Go
    Favorite Moment: Vedder’s passionate vocal crescendo at the end of Black when he sings the line “Why can’t it be mine?”
    Favorite memory: Hearing Even Flow at a hockey game in 2002 and thinking I was the coolest person in the stadium for knowing every single word.
    And kudos to tom for also pointing out the album’s imperfections, e.g. the borderline-cheesy solos. Loving something and claiming it to not have flaws are totally different things.

  7. You say the ” expansive riffage” on Ten is like Pink Floyd, Tom Petty and Black Sabbath. I hear a little David Gilmour and Tony Iommi (cuz of the blusier hard rock elements on the album) but not Mike Campbell/Petty. Better references include Hendrix, Led Zeppelin (“Black”), Keith Richards, and Ace Frehley/KISS, who Mike McCready admitted to ripping off on the “Alive” solo. Which Frehley/KISS song would that be? “She,” which also rips off the guitar solo on The Doors “5 To 1.” I don’t really have any issue with this but just had to point that out.

    Every song on Ten (just like all Nevermind and Gish songs) are winners. 1991 kicked mega ass for music overall, between the Pumpkins, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, G’N'R, Metallica, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Massive Attack, My Bloody Valentine, Soundgarden, R.E.M., and on and on. There’s been a ton of great music since then but I don’t think another year has had THAT many great albums come out ever since.

    • I’m partial to 1997. OK Computer, Urban Hymns, Time Out of Mind, Brighten the Corners, Dig Your Own Hole, Blur, Pop, Be Here Now, Dig Me Out, Portishead, Homework, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, If You’re Feeling Sinister, Life After Death, etc. Fantastic year.

    • U2 Achtung Baby also came out in ’91. My favorite album of the past 25 years.

  8. I listened to Ten, Nevermind and Angle Dust (Faith No More) a lot in the summer of 1992. These three albums are landmarks for me, but I have to say I never like Pearl Jam after Ten. It was a fun time to get into music and I am grateful that these bands helped end hair-metal and gave an alternative to the bloated rock bands like Metallica and Guns and Roses at the time.

  9. I bought this album when I was fifteen. Like pretty much everyone that age, I loved Nirvana and had already blasted Nevermind countless times so I wanted to get into something kinda similar. And the weird thing is, the first time I heard Ten I hated it! I thought the songs were too long, they didn’t go anywhere, and the solos were too noodly. But the thing about great albums like this is that they get better every time you listen to them. It’s one of those timeless albums that never gets old, and every time I listen to it I get lost in the passion of the music and Eddie Vedder’s raw, Jack Daniel’s-soaked growl.

    Favorite song: Black
    Favorite moment: The end of Garden
    Favorite random memory: When I was a sophomore in college and I learned how to play Alive and Black and guitar. My next door neighbor hears me playing and goes “Pearl Jam, that’s awesome dude!” My roommate hears me playing and goes “Oh fuck, he’s singing again!”

  10. Maybe it’s the fact that I am not a part of Generation X, but Ten just doesn’t resonate with me the way Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, etc. records from that era do. There’s just something about it that makes it harder to connect to for someone who can’t experience nostalgia about its release. Other bands from the period do seem to have certain timeless qualities that Pearl Jam lacks. Nirvana had brilliant songwriting coupled with ferocious intensity, Smashing Pumpkins had killer hooks and searing shoegaze-esque distortion, and Weezer had a real emotional heart and interesting musical ideas that were slightly offbeat. I’m not saying it’s even a bad album, but Ten feels like a rehash of the classic rock albums my dad played growing up coupled with some signature early 90s angst.

    I’m not the only one either. I have friends who thrilled with discovery the first time they heard records like Nevermind, Pinkerton, Dookie, Siamese Dream, Crooked Rain, and Superunknown, but that rarely seems to happen with Ten. They remind me of bands like CSN&Y that are hugely popular with their generation and are critically acclaimed in their era but don’t seem to have that effect on people who weren’t around when those records came out. Every baby boomer seems to be convinced the Doors are one of the greatest bands ever, though their music is a lot more maligned and divisive for people who didn’t listen to it as a soundtrack to the Vietnam War.

    It could also be that we’ve grown up hearing bands like Nickelback and Creed on the radio constantly first and then going back on our own to look for the grunge records that “inspired” those terrible bands. I’m not blaming Pearl Jam for this, but it does somewhat distort the lens through which they are viewed.

    Or it could be because I’ve heard “Even Flow” way too many times. Just sayin’.

    • It’s very odd to see a reasoned comment like this on the internet.

    • I don’t know. Superunknown sounds way more today in light of all the contrived mainstream metal acts that tried to imitate its dynamics, and Dookie especially is a much harder listen thanks to the glut of awful pop-punk that it inspired in the late ’90s/early ’00s. I can completely understand the other albums you listed as they’re touchstones for most of the indie rock world that followed, but I don’t think there’s any more of a disconnect for Ten than those other two albums. People forget but Green Day was almost completely irrelevant by the time they released their second album. “Time of Your Life” helped maintain some mainstream recognition a little later on but they didn’t really become “something” again until American Idiot when they reinvented themselves. I think Green Day is seen as a great band now because of that reinvention, not necessarily because of their earlier work. Had American Idiot not happened they probably would’ve been relegated to the ’90s nostalgia bin like Rancid.

      • Those are good points. I can definitely see where you’re coming from on the Soundgarden album, but it doesn’t seem to get nearly as much radio play as Ten except for “Black Hole Sun.” I think it goes back more to the singing style of Eddie Vedder being copied and poorly imitated so much in a way that I don’t think Cobain’s and Cornell’s were as much (with some exceptions I’m sure). When I hear a Creed or Staind song on my local modern rawk station, the first thing that goes through my mind is, “This is such an awful version of Pearl Jam.”

        Besides that, it really does just come down to the music for me. When I hear something like “Jeremy,” I feel like Vedder is singing uniquely for the people of his generation and his immediate audience at the time. Something like “Heart Shaped Box” or “Fell on Black Days” seems a bit more timeless and instantly relatable. Even something as tied to the 90s like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is an absolute revelation the first time you hear it and is an epic battle cry no matter how old you are.

        On Green Day, the singles from Dookie are just so good that their catchiness and sense of inevitability seems really hard to deny. A song like “Basket Case” doesn’t really seem that much of its time and has a certain universality to it. The same can be said for “Welcome to Paradise” and “When I Come Around.” You are absolutely correct that Green Day spawned all the Blink-182s and Sum 41s of the world, and that’s my guess as to why the aren’t usually in the same conversation as some of other great bands of the 90s. American Idiot did maintain their recognition in the mainstream sphere, but I personally really like Warning. In terms of legacy though, Dookie was so huge that I doubt they would have been completely dismissed. But that’s just me.

    • All the releases you site are certainly ingrained in me clearly, and perhaps I know every note and every lyric to some of them more than I do to Ten, although, being 11 and female made the darker side of Nirvana and even Pearl Jam less accessible to me at that time (though they have both grown in my psyche after the fact). When you mention CSN&Y It’s funny, because I latched on HARD to their music and the Doors’ in my teens – when, you’re right, they weren’t the current soundtrack to life – but to me – lyrically and musically they represented that trip – the finding of consciousness and the parting from American society’s “telescope up its own ass” mentality. And today – nearly 30, I am involved in local schools and you would not believe the number of tshirts donning oddly enough, The Doors, and Nirvana – not too many wearing PJ or Green Day or Weezer. Maybe its the darkness connection that keeps them fresh with teens.

  11. Pearl Jam was always criticized more negatively than Nirvana, and they still are to this day. They have turned into the Rolling Stones of their era, and Nirvana pretty much has played the short-lived part of the Beatles. Pearl Jam’s greatness is spawned more from their longevity of being a band rather than from the music they have created in the past twenty years. “Ten” does not resonate with younger audiences today as much as “Nevermind” because of the same reason it didn’t resonate with the audiences twenty years ago. The reason being that Kurt Cobain’s lyrics and methods of simplistic song craft are more personal and individualized. He was the one writing the material. Pearl Jam has always been a collaborative effort, and to many music fans, this can be a turn off if they do not happen to like a particular writing style of one the members. Vedder’s lyrics tend to send a political message, especially in his latter days, and politics are not everyone’s cup of musical tea.

    Favorite Song – “Porch”
    Favorite Moment – Intro and Outro of the album
    Favorite Random Memory – The friend who gave me the album has now passed away, but he once told me he wished he had kept the album.

  12. I was 10 – when Ten came on the scene. I loved it. I wasn’t buying music then, so the radio and MTV told me Evenflow and Jeremy was what I was to hear, and I was in. At around 11 I got the album and started wearing plaid flannel….

  13. I listened to Ten (and Nevermind) only 6 years after they came out. Still they were a big influence in my musical taste. I remember seeing the Even Flow video for the first time and going wild with Vedders jump performance. That scene made me wanna be a rock artist.

    Many years later, Ten is not my favorite Pearl Jam album, but it shure is the one that brings most memories of my MTV times.

    Fav. Song – Release

  14. One of my formative albums of youth, for sure. But the best part about this is that PJ and Eddie are still relevant and making records. I’m glad that the grunge scene wasn’t just a fad and produced some legends…who are still alive. Ha, get it, Alive.

  15. best thread ever on stereogum. You guys made some great points.

  16. Favourite song: Release
    Favourite Moment: the climatic ending of Black
    Random Memory: Ten was released in the pre golden age of internet ( in my country at that time internet was a luxury). almost nobody had even heard of Pearl Jam. I was even surprised to find the CD was actually sold locally and took my chance based on what I read about them on Kerrang! ( yeah) and was intrigued by the singular song titles.

    Though TEN got me hooked to Pearl Jam, it was not until Vs that I said to myself: this is a band of my life. I followed them tru several tours , even went to the US to finish my Degree just so I could see the band live, And i credit them for introducing me to Sonic Youth and to more experimental music ( Eddie had a side project with his then wife called HOvercraft, an avant noise band)

  17. Hm, I guess my fave moment was seeing them on that Lollapalooza tour, I was in the front row getting just crushed by the frat boys and mosh pit people. I was never crazy about Pearl Jam (you had to at least pretend to like them to get any from the girls at the time though) but that was a good show, they are a damn good live band even if I don’t really like their music. So that’s a decent memory. Dear LORD there is nothing more annoying almost anywhere than Eddie Vedder’s face in that damn ‘Jeremy’ video. But I’ll concede that this album has a few decent tracks. Nothing much they did after that really hit me either. I just never really like them all that much. Nevermind was huge for me, but only as vindication for alt rock in general. I was always more into atmospheric shit like the Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus & Mary Chain and the like. I was actually more excited to see Lush than Pearl Jam in 1992.

  18. Ten was never my favorite PJ album, but I also didn’t get into the band until ’97/’98. The singles are mighty if overplayed and there are some other fierce tracks scattered throughout. But Vs. and Vitalogy remain my favorites – on Vs. they just sound absolutely FURIOUS and on Vitalogy they sound like they’re about to fall apart at any minute. They fit really well with the narrative of the band and what they were going through, too. Ten does feel a bit standard-fare arena rock in some ways, but not in a particularly off-putting way.

    I don’t see what everyone’s beef with the guitar solos is though – people, especially “indie people” get so damn weird about guitar solos. I remember absolutely loving the band that much more because the soloing on tracks like “Alive” sounded so unabashedly heroic. As a matter of fact, my favorite version of “Black” is the one on “Live on 2 Legs” where they add in a minute or two of outro solo that completely ramps up the emotional impact to a whole other degree, encapsulating what the song was going for in just over a minute. Let PJ solo, I say.

    Another thing that kind of grinds my craw from back in that day was what a dick Cobain was about the band. In Utero was a great album, but Cobain was for all intents and purposes a spiteful hipster a lot of the time, and you can tell he hated Pearl Jam based on basic hipster instinct – the sound was too big and bold, Jeff Ament was a jock – that kind of thing. And it’s that kind of mentality that a lot of people who have hated on Pearl Jam over the years have shared. I just feel it was kind of pointless and immature.

    Favorite Ten track – “Porch”
    Favorite moment – Either the beginning or end of “Black”
    Favorite Ten memory – Hearing that Live on 2 Legs “Black” in middle school and just being blown away at how much harder it hit me than the studio one had on the radio.

    • Excellent post. Yes, to everything you just pointed out, especially regarding the strange disdain among a large swath of writers/critics/influencers and plebs alike (many who doubtlessly are influenced by such aforementioned people) for apparently any and all forms and quality of guitar solos. Just as there are good cheese and bad cheese and everything in between, there are good, there are “eh”, and there are bad guitar solos. Pearl Jam’s usually fell on the side of good, as I am trying to replay them in my head. I may be rightly accused of being an indie fag and occasionally hipster-lite these days, but I don’t give a fuck. I am critically eclectic and I like whatever is good to these ears and whatever can resonate within.

      I was seventeen when Ten and Nevermind dropped in my laps, almost a year after they were released. For an emigrant kid who grew up feeding on almost wholly non-critically safe adult contemporary radio to the tunes of mainstream 80s such as Phil Collins, Air Supply and Kenny G, these two albums were a one two revelation punch to the cranium. Ten was the first to hit, and it fired up neurons that had apparently been dormant for seventeen years. Not long after, Nevermind hit even harder, and all tethers to that safe adult contemporary radio world were completely severed. Thanks to these two albums, music became an activity rather than a passivity. I actively sought out other music and bands in LP and CD bins of Tower Records and all the other record stores that have fallen by the wayside, and I attended my first concert not long thereafter (Smashing Pumpkins, I think).

      So, although I no longer follow PJ connect with Ten (or to a lesser extent, Nevermind) the same way that seventeen year old me did, a track from it occasionally pops into play from within the five-star playlist, and I smile a bit and ready myself to sing along with Eddie Vedder – unintelligibly, of course.

  19. I gotta agree here. Although I DO like PJ, they do seem more 70′s hard-rock(with angst) than the more punk Nirvana, and the more Metal sounding Alice and Chains and Soundgarden. Maybe it’s because the both of us aren’t apart of Generation X to be able to tell the difference, me being a member of “Gen-Y”.
    Speaking of Alice and Chains, doesn’t anyone else realize how much heavier a Alice-N-Chains sounded than other bands? They were border line metal…I guess every Seattle band got pinned Grunge, heck, every Alt-band that came out in the early 90′s probably got pinned with Grunge. Smashing Pumpkins were from the CHI-TOWN.

    And about Green Day, I have to agree with the others about how they influence all the crappy pop-punk bands in the late-90′s early 00′s. I was 10 in 1999 when Blink and all those bands started to become popular. Well, I guess all those pop-punk bands weren’t bad, I liked Blink, but Fall-Out Boy? YIKES!!!

    And remember the Ska-Punk explosion of the mid to late-90′s? I remember being in 1st grade when No Doubt came out with Tragic Kingdom(which was actually beyond just Ska). Anyways, KUDOS to Pearl Jam’s 10 and Nirvanas Nevermind(I love that album). I was 2 in 91 so I wasn’t old enough to enjoy those times. It seems like Garage Rock, Post-Punk, and Shogaze in the underground seen today is becoming the grunge equivalent with our generation. We shall see…

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    • I can see how PJ sounded like the throwback 70′s hard-rock bands, but Nirvana, Alice N Chains, and Soundgarden, don’t remind me of remotely anything from that era. You said you were in your early 20′s in the early 90′s or early 70′s?

    • I also don’t get how the Grunge bands going mainstream affected Indie music of that time. I never get how bands going mainstream can negatively effect Indie music. If you’re truly underground and out of the grasp of big labels then another bands mainstream success really has nothing to do with the Indie music you play and enjoy. It may have exposed a scene, but how does it destroy that scene?

  21. Everytime i hear ‘Release Me’ i can’t help but imagine Scott Stapp listening to it and his eyes bugging out, it’s sung EXACTLY how he sang for Creed…dry-heave inducing.

  22. I was in 8th grade when this album came out. I lived in the Rio Grande Valley and we did not have college radio and the internet was still pre-Al Gore. I could not help but gravitate toward this record. You have to remember, with only a few exceptions, radio was littered with Color Me Badd, Bryan Adams and Extreme. I recall buying this on cassette and my cousin getting “Nevermind” the same day on CD. (i was the poor one) Unfortunately it really does sound dated. The production and the “look-at-me” solos are a little much. ( I honestly feel No Code and Yield are much better records) But I still love what this record represents to me. This record eventually led me to the Pixies, Neutral Milk Hotel and Pavement. And for that, I am forever thankful.

    • No Code?! haha, thats the album that made me HATE them?? well that combined with their non-touring vigor AND discovering Radiohead, etc;) But really you do realize No Code was recording in like 10 seconds INSTEAD of touring post Vitology just to kill some time, obviously…theres a reason they never play those songs haha, horrid/lazy crap.

  23. Wow. This is quite possibly the most surprising and interesting thread I’ve ever read on stereogum. Absolutely expected to read 20 posts about why pearl jam sucks a la spacepunk82 above.

    Anyway, as someone who grew up in the suburbs of Boston – pearl jam was huge (they still are. Before WBCN disbanded PJ seemingly always won their annual march madness battle of the bands).

    When I go home now for weddings and the like, the many friends who never “escaped” still listen to Sublime, Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam, 311 and the like…. but I still never cringe when PJ comes on. They are the only band I still fall back upon every few months, and always will… though I’ve moved well on in my musical tastes, and I don’t love their new stuff.

    anyways, since you asked:

    what do I think now: it whiffs of cheese, definitely. and I prefer vs/vitalogy/no code but ten’s a for sure classic.
    favorite song: black
    favorite moment: I’m still a sucker for the “woo woo woo woo” on jeremy. anyone who’s been a part of 20,000 people doing it along with eddie know what I mean.
    random memory: listening to the cassette tape while camping with my dad, who actually happens to be a huge fan (still. he’s 51)

  24. I thought this album was totally dated and a relic UNTIL i heard the remixed version(s) that came out the past year or so, the new mixes really breath life back into this album, and it was always one of those first few albums where i loved the whole thing. I still take the piss out of them all the time, they’re ‘good’ and all, but A) they’re a relic of the time now, the only Seattle band that kept going. and B) even though they’ve kept going forever, i, as a musician, have never heard them ‘evolve’ in any obvious ways, they still sound the same. Yeah i know ‘well that’s ‘good’ in a way…yes n no, i think it shows lack of cajones personally. Plus it’s just dumb they’ve never taken a 5 year hiatus and expanded to do other things, form other bands, other REAL bands. IDK…i know they’re good live and their superfans will be there forever, but overall they just strike me boring…sorting like the 1990s Aerosmith:)

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