Pearl Jam shuns popularity, yet still puts together a platinum album

Aug 30, 2003
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Songs inspired by classic rock which just hold up after all these years

Cons:Pearl Jam pretty well limited the success of this one through a lack of promotion

The Bottom Line: One that Pearl Jam fans and guitar-based rock enthusiasts should embrace.

I can't help but get a little sentimental when listening to Pearl Jam's Vs. When this nifty little album arrived, little did we know it would soon be associated with the "grunge movement," which collapsed under its own weight just a year or so after Vs. was released. That's really too bad as Pearl Jam's sophomore effort tends to get slapped with a generic label instead of being recognized for what it is -- a damn fine disc firmly-rooted in classic rock and delivered with passion, inspired lyrics and warm, distorted guitars to spare.

This album, interestingly, rather marks a turning point in the so-called grunge movement. When Vs. arrived in 1993, Pearl Jam was one of those "Seattle bands" which rocketed to fame in the early 1990s. Pearl Jam, after all, had delivered the fantastic Ten disc just two years earlier, and "grunge" was considered the latest, greatest movement in all of rockdom. The members of Pearl Jam, however, hated the idea of being a mainstream band almost as much as their contemporaries (i.e., look at how Nirvana's Kurt Cobain reacted to fame and fortune by blowing his head off with a shotgun in 1994).

It's important to point out how bands such as Pearl Jam reacted to their unexpected fame as it explains how the whole "grunge" movement collapsed. If the lads in Pearl Jam weren't interested in playing ball with the major labels, there were plenty of bands that were willing to take the "grunge" formula and churn out plenty of slick, commercial albums (think about Creed, if you will). Sadly, Pearl Jam has been lumped in -- to a degree, at least -- with the more commercial bands which became very good at manipulating an established formula, cleaning off the rough edges which drove the music produced by bands like Pearl Jam and selling a hell of a lot of albums (think about how disco perverted funk, and you'll get the idea).

So, when Vs. arrived, Pearl Jam backed off their new-found fame a bit by refusing to make a video or release any singles. And, the disc went platinum, anyway. While folks can talk about the importance of this disc as an important historical document all day long, what's more impressive is how good this album actually is.

When listening to this one, make sure to toss all the "grunge" and "alternative" labels out the window. This is a damn good disc which sounds like it could have been recorded by a forward-thinking band in the 1970s. This disc, like all of Pearl Jam's albums, was obviously recorded by people who loved the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and other AOR staples. However, as much as Vs. stands as a tribute, it also works in plenty "attitude" one would associate with post-punk bands.

Take, for example, the excellent "Rearviewmirror," which is driven by a pulsating baseline from Jeff Ament, a quick tempo and plenty of muscular vocals from Eddie Vedder. Go is another song utilizing the "play like hell and hang on, junior!" philosophy, and it works quite well. And, who could forget about "Leash," in which Vedder almost yells himself hoarse on top of a blistering, wah-wah guitar lead and rants across "thought police?"

And, of course, you've got the typical Pearl Jam ballad with "Daughter," an obvious song about child abuse in which Vedder sings in that rich, baritone voice which simply pushes the song. Like most Pearl Jam ballads, it's plenty reflective and disturbing, yet it comes off well on the disc. Similarly, "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" is a ballad which reflects on the day-to-day thoughts of the song's central character.

Naturally, this disc will be viewed in light of Pearl Jam's brilliant Ten debut. While I don't enjoy it quite as much as Ten, this is still a fine disc, packed with surging guitar leada and anger. Pick it up if you're a Pearl Jam fan. Hell, pick it up if you're a fan of guitar-based rock played to the hilt.

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