PEARL JAM‘s follow-up to the hugely successful Ten came out in late 1993. Vs has gone on to sell over 6 million copies to date. For more information about my PEARL JAM project, please go ahead and click this.
When Vs came out, Pearl Jam were one of the biggest bands in the world. PEOPLE CARED A LOT. The record was successful, but does it hold up? I mentioned this in my review of Ten, but it holds true for Vs as well – this album was lost on me at the time. I knew the singles (because they were massive hits), but hadn’t ever heard the album in its entirety until tackling this project. Oh boy.
Go – This track starts with what sounds like dicking around, and my first thought was “Oh god, they’re just picking up where Ten left off.” Launching properly into the song, though, “Go”seems pretty great. Right off the top, it hits harder than anything on Ten, and while it still retains some of the chicken-pickin’ riff work that was all over the previous album, there’s an unhinged quality that works for me. The band still seems to have a troubling affinity for wah pedals, but at least now they’re using them to create an ungodly racket. The production on this record is already more listenable than that mess of a debut. A promising start!
Animal – This song sounds kind of generic and boiler-plate-y right off the top, and Vedder doesn’t do the song any favours by doing his mumble-act to open the first verse. The song bucks convention by bringing the chorus down instead of up, which is interesting. The band then totally shits the bed by allowing one of the guitarists to launch into a Joe Perry guitar solo and then Eddie Vedder bee-bop-a-doo-bop’s his way to the finish. My initial optimism is shaken.
Daughter – I’ve heard this song somewhere in the neighbourhood of seven trillion times. It is the definitive proto-Hootie song. Like the two tracks preceding it, though, it sounds better than anything on PJ‘s debut record. A competent soft-pop song. I associate it so heavily with the era, I’m reluctant to attach any judgment of value to it and claim that it’s objective. The sheer number of times I’ve sung the opening lines at people as a joke dictates that I owe this song a debt of gratitude.
Glorified G – I don’t understand what this song is trying to say, but the chorus is hilarious. The “Glorified version of a…” “Pel-i-cuuunnnn” hook is kind of … irresistible. That said, the song is sort of goofy and musically uninteresting. It also features one of Eddie’s embarrassing little spoken-word “skits” in the middle. This track is a curiousity. Kind of a time-capsule of certain kinds of bad ideas.
Dissident – Stone Temple Pilots heard the opening to this song, tried to figure out how to play it and wrote the entire Purple album. Complication: Some of the songs on Purple are better than “Dissident”. It’s a plodding mid-tempo rocker, relying on the repeated guitar line to provide a hook. I would rather listen to “Interstate Love Song”, frankly.
W.M.A. – This song is a bummer. One thing I’ve determined is that I’m stoked about zero percent of the time when this band’s bass player is given the spotlight. The track is fairly formless and contains a guitar solo that is lame and feels interminable. I’m not sure who’s bad idea it was to include weird tribal-style grunting, but it just reeks of a band with too much time on its hands in the studio and nobody telling them to reign in their shitty brainstorms.
Blood – This song is frustrating. It injects the album with a bit of energy and spunk that it desperately needed following the last few tracks. The ramshackle hook and uncharacteristically wild vocals are actually pretty fun. The problem? Everywhere the song isn’t going absolutely nuts, the guitarists are laying down absolutely terrible porn guitar “wocka-wocka” sounds that ruin the whole track. Why? Why would they do this?!
Rearviewmirror – This song is strong – if generic – and has some of the album’s most interesting melodic ideas in the chorus. I have no quarrel with this tune. The album could have used more straight-ahead rockers this well constructed. But no, by all means. Throw in some drum-circle didgeridoo or something, Pearl Jam.
Rats – The bass groove that leads this song is characteristically terrible. A-squeedly-bee-bop-a-doo-bah. Didn’t they already use the ascending chords in the chorus in two other songs already? This is a contender for the album’s worst song.
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town – I spent this entire song signing “Yoouuuuuu’ve got to hiiiiide your love awayyyyyyyyy.” This is a fine tune. Totally listenable. The bass sounds like it’s farting. I hate this bass player so much.
Leash – This song is track 11, which means that the band probably didn’t think much of it. It’s a fairly standard Pearl Jam rocker. The gang vocals on “drop the leash, we are one” are fun and spirited. Could have used more than that. The instrumental outro is waaaaay too long and the guitar solo could have been lifted from any of the other songs on this album and superimposed onto this track and it would have sounded exactly the song. During the extended outro, there’s a moment where Eddie Vedder mumbles “get out of my fuckin’ face” that made me laugh out loud. Perhaps a comedy record is called for!
Indifference – This may be the only “experimental” track on this record that feels like a success to me. A subdued, smouldering vibe floats around here, making the most of Vedder’s (admittedly strong) vocal work. This is actually a pretty great track to end an album with. One of the better songs on the record.
While Vs isn’t exactly the record that I wanted it to be, it’s a step in the right direction and far more enjoyable than Ten. Even when it’s rocking out, Ten feels penned-in and safe. There are moments of actual intensity on Vs that feel really satisfying. There are also moments of intimacy on the more melodic numbers that feel more genuine than anything on the debut.
The band’s openness to experimentation is heartening, but often falls flat. It’s clear that they weren’t really sure of what worked in some cases, and there’s a lot of them simply falling back on old tricks. Some of those old tricks – guitar solos, generic 70s-rock riffs, bad bass grooves – are bad tricks. They’d be better off stripping down to the rather muscular essentials that tracks like “Go” prove that they’re capable of.
I write this as if I’m giving advice to a young band, which is positively demented given that this album was released when I was 11 years old and that these are all 50-year old men now. That being said, I’ll continue dispensing advice. Hey, Pearl Jam. Fire your bass player, or at least force him to use a bass with frets on it. Stop letting your guitarist do a guitar solo in every song. Don’t let Eddie try to act out skits in the middle of songs.
I’m sure that I’ll hear “Daughter” about a million more times before I’m dead, but this has been a fairly productive exercise in that now I realize that there are other songs on Vs that I would also like to hear again before I’m dead. This is not a terrible album. Would listen to much of it again!
Next week: Vitalogy!