Skip to main content

100 Albums: "Vs." by Pearl Jam


Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Pearl Jam
Title: Vs.
Released: 1993
Genre: alt-rock post-glam grunge



In 1990, singer Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose a few days before the scheduled debut release from his band Mother Love Bone. Wood's roommate, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, approached MLB's bassist and rhythm guitarist, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, about putting together a tribute album. They agreed, and brought on board Soundgarden's drummer Matt Cameron and couple of newcomers that Gossard and Ament had been jamming with, lead guitarist Mike McCready and singer Eddie Vedder. The tribute album was called Temple Of The Dog and it spawned two hit singles in Hunger Strike and Say Hello 2 Heaven. Afterwards, Cornell and Cameron returned to Soundgarden and the other four became Pearl Jam. (And, because the world is teeny-tiny, Cameron is now Pearl Jam's drummer, although he didn't join until 2002). Pearl Jam's 1991 debut album Ten came at exactly the right moment, releasing a month before Nirvana's Nevermind heralded the beginning of the grunge explosion. Pearl Jam rocketed to success and in 1993 released their follow-up Vs.

I've mentioned before that the grunge scene--even in a locale like Seattle--wasn't really one movement but a set of them, with punk acts like Nirvana and Meat Puppets being lumped in with metal acts like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. Pearl Jam represented the glam-rock end of things, and it shows a lot in Ten, which is essentially a glam-rock album but dark and brooding instead flashy and pompous (that's not a dig, pomposity is a selling point for glam). But Vs. has them veering a little farther into hard rock territory and doing some sonic exploration. The only song that felt like it could have been on Ten is Dissident. Vs. has got some acoustic not-quite-ballads in Daughter and Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town, a couple of thrashing tunes in Blood and Animal, some speed-rockers with Go and Rearviewmirror, and also whatever the hell is going on with Rats. The album closer Indifference is just an emotional bomb, the penultimate Leash is a great hard rock anthem. This was also the era that saw the band being more forward with politics and activism--they stopped making music videos for MTV and broke ties with Ticketmaster. For another band either of those could have been career suicide. The activism spilled into their lyrics as well. Glorified G and W.M.A. are pointedly about gun fetishism and racist policing, respectively, two topics that are... let me check my notes... still very active in the discourse twenty-six years later.

While Vs. lacks the sonic cohesion of Ten, I think it has better songs. Daughter and Elderly Woman... are classics, and the only meh songs on the disc are Blood and Rats. (Seriously, what the hell is going on with that song?) Rearviewmirror is one of my favorite songs to listen to in the car. And the musicianship is really something to behold. McCready's silky leads and Vedder's vocals are easy to identify, but Gossard is an under-appreciated rhythm guitarist. And my biggest gripe about the record is that the bass is undermixed. Ament is a great bassist, and his sound is truly unique because he plays 8-string, 12-string, or fretless basses. You can hear that buzzy doubled string sound at the beginning of Go and the extra-smooth fretless sound during Indifference, but for the most part his contributions feel buried.

Further Listening: Ten is a pretty solid album, if a bit glossier, and while it's not well-loved, I really like Vitalogy. After that though, I find a lot of Pearl Jam's output cloying, especially subsequent singles Last Kiss and Wish List. If you can find it, the single for Jeremy produced two fantastic B-sides: Footsteps and Yellow Ledbetter. That last song became a radio hit when the band should have been promoting Vitalogy, but what can you do? It was included on their Rearviewmirror retrospective, so it's easy to find now. Footsteps, not so much. Finally. Also, the soundtrack to the 1992 movie Singles is worth checking out. It was very much about the then nascent Seattle rock scene and has music from Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, and Chris Cornell--all of whom have cameos in the film--along with Mudhoney,  Mother Love Bone, and Screaming Trees. Pearl Jam contributed two songs to that soundtrack, notably State Of Love And Trust, which is a pretty epic tune.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

...

21 people are dead that didn't need to be. My children go through active shooter drills at their elementary schools. Because people like you love guns more than humans. You fucking asshole. I'm so tired of all of this. ]{p

Memory Leaks: Contra

🎖️Running with the devil... Contra was the original run-and-gun shooter on the platform that made home video game systems ubiquitous. Originally an arcade game, the 1988 NES port is almost certainly the most famous entry in the entire franchise and one of the most popular third-party titles on the system. It was known for its punishing difficulty. It was also one of the first Nintendo games to employ 2-player simultaneous co-op, which sounds like it should make the game easier, but in practice meant you and your schoolmate would mess up each others' flow and cause each other to die. When you ran out of lives, you could steal one from the other player's reserve. Fortunately, there was widely known "secret" code that gave you an extra twenty-seven lives, and this code no doubt preserved countless friendships. How I Remember It... I had a friend named Bryan, and he and I would play it together a lot. He owned a copy first, and playing his is what got me to beg my paren

Sentinels of the Multiverse: Definitive Edition: A Thoroughly Unnecessary Review

 Time to save the multiverse A couple years ago I was blogging about my love of tabletop games and described Sentinels of the Multiverse  as being either my first or second favorite, depending on what day of the week it was. Then last year they announced a new "Definitive Edition" of the base game with expansion content to follow. This would be a ground-up rethinking and rebalancing that would, amongst other things, be mostly incompatible with the existing content. Of which I have a lot. This has been a "shut-up-and-take-my-money" IP for years now, so it's not like I  wasn't  going to buy it, but I was at first trepidatious. I mean, was this even necessary? And then I saw an interview with the creators where they talked about what they were trying to accomplish with the new edition, and I was on board. And then the Kickstarter launched and more information was available and I got excited. After all, as I mentioned in the above-linked write-up, the oldest Sen