At this time in their career, Seattle based grunge-rock band Pearl Jam was flying high with the success of its hugely popular 1991 debut record, “Ten”. With this album, Pearl Jam was implemented as one of the grunge kings in the ‘90s. However, its quality train didn’t end with its debut, as its sophomore 1993 effort, “Vs.,” still proved that Pearl Jam was not a one-trick pony.
Although the product of the record is truly brilliant, Rolling Stone writer Andy Greene discusses Pearl Jam’s anxiety of stardom while recording. “Now, for the first time, Pearl Jam had to make a record that was certain to be a high-stakes blockbuster, and do it while dealing with a lead singer so uncomfortable with stardom that he entertained the notion of leaving the band and selling solo tapes directly to fans from his house,” Greene writes. The band felt pressure to make another critical smash like their first album, which led to tension and anger in the recording studio.
This was all worth it however, as Pearl Jam created something very special with “Vs.” No other mainstream rock band in the ‘90s was creating such heavy-hitting and raw music at the time. The songs on this album are so unique from each other, giving them their own identity, while also providing consistency in tone and emotion. “Vs.” never fails to put Pearl Jam’s brilliance high upon a pedestal for everyone to see, from start to end.
So, where is the brilliance?
I haven’t listened to an album in a long time that catches my utmost attention from the first two songs alone. The opening track, “Go,” along with the following, “Animal,” seem to grab you by the collar and shake you around until you cannot breathe anymore. “Go” is loud, fast, and powerful – making the listener feel as if they went to rock and roll heaven and back. Once the song ends, you feel as if the craziness is all over. Then, the catchy hook of “Animal” comes in and pulls you back into the ring, spoon-feeding you that pure rock and roll bliss that is so rare nowadays.
The guitar and drum work on these songs both play off of each other really well, as they both create this cathartic and headbang feel. Eddie Vedder’s vocals really reveal his brilliance at dynamics. Vedder will be subdued in the verses, creating a sense of anticipation. Once the chorus hits, however, Vedder’s vocals explode in volume and anger, providing an excellent emotional payoff.
Although this album shows of Pearl Jam’s heavy side, for the most part, the softer sounding songs standout just as much. One of the more popular songs on the album, “Daughter,” proves that Pearl Jam knows when to take it down a notch. Vedder’s lyrics in the chorus are some of the most catchy work the band has ever made. “Don’t call me daughter, not fit to
the picture kept will remind me,” Vedder sings. This lyric never fails to have me humming along for hours on end.
The closing track on the album, “Indifference”, is another great example of the subtle brilliance of the album. It is one of the eeriest and depressing sounding songs Pearl Jam has ever created. This is due to the reverb-drenched keyboard and bass work, as well as the creaking sounds of metal. It gives the feeling that you are walking through an abandoned subway station, with only the sounds of the atmosphere to guide you.
I also believe that “Vs.” contains some of Pearl Jam’s most overlooked and underrated songs. “Blood” for instance, is a track that does not get the recognition it deserves when it comes to Pearl Jam’s brilliance. The song starts right off with heavy drums, screeching guitar riff, and groovy bass line. Due to these traits, I would throw this song in with the mood of the first two tracks. However, the standout of this song is Vedder’s screaming vocals, as they never fail to send chills down my spine. The combination of the screaming and disturbing imagery of the lyrics will always stick with me. “Drains and spills fill the pages, fills their sponges,” Vedder screams, referring to his own blood.
In a Billboard review of the album written by Jessica Letkemann, she goes on to discuss the lasting impact the record made on Pearl Jam’s reputation. “To date, the sophomore set that proved the band could do things its own way—a tactic that directly helped make its longevity possible—has sold 6 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan,” Letkemann describes.
After all of the struggle and anxiety the band went through making “Vs.,” it ended up becoming a smash hit. This wasn’t luck, however, as the album shows the hard work and musicianship of Pearl Jam in full display. Every song is so crammed full of attention to detail and talent, it would be an insult to any Pearl Jammer (or music fan in general) to ignore this album. All in all, “Vs.” goes to show that with a little bit of effort and creativity, a fine-tuned and genius piece of music can be made.
A few comments:
1. It’s rare to read an article with proper grammar, spelling, etc. Even the pros can’t get it right a lot of the time! Great job here.
2. Spot on with the analysis on this album. I love the pacing.
3. I will say that Soundgarden was another mainstream band of the time that was putting out heavy-hitting and raw material.
4. I waited outside a music store in Charleston, Ill. in 1993 to buy this album at a midnight sale. Ah, memories.
Solid writing, Charlie! Good to know that some teenagers are still paying attention to PJ!