By Siri Harrison
As a huge fan of Pearl Jam’s debut Ten, I only recently explored their second album. It did not disappoint! Vs. rivals the band’s debut in every way. It’s an explosive, more jarring follow up to the ballad-ridden Ten. That’s not to say Vs. doesn’t have its ballady moments and Ten doesn’t have its own startling moments (“Jeremy” comes to mind), but in Vs. the primary feeling is indignance. This became apparent to me around track four, “Glorified G,” in which Eddie Vedder mocks drummer Dave Abbruzzese by donning the persona of a macho man who carries two loaded guns–“but that’s okay, man, ‘cause [he loves] God.” This track sums up the experience the band had creating their second record. Tensions were running high following their multi-platinum debut. Some rabid “fans” had accused the band of selling out, and even more fans were hungry for a record as immaculate as their first. The band was feeling pressured and impatient. It was those suffocating emotions that allowed them to snap back at the public like animals trapped in a corner–(see album cover).
So many of the songs on Vs. detail the strife of interpersonal relationships, just like the one between PJ and, well, the entire world at the time. The first track “Go” embodies that indignance I mentioned, in all the most deliciously wrong ways. The starting riff tears into listeners without mercy, and then Vedder unleashes a frantic vocal assault, acting as an entitled partner desperate to “repossess” the person they’ve wronged. “Animal,” the second track, takes the elements of abuse themes and unrelenting riff work and runs with them. Though “Daughter” mellows things out a bit, it tells yet another story of domestic turmoil, this time between a young girl and “the hand that holds her down.”
I’ve found “W.M.A” to be the underappreciated gem of the album, as it’s the track that displays perhaps the most compelling case of righteous indignation, rivaled only by “Rearviewmirror.” Both songs feature some of Vedder’s most powerful vocal performances. Another one of my less popular favorites is the mellow, haunting “Indifference.” It’s a striking standout on an album fueled by adrenaline, and some of the band’s most impressive lyrical work. It acts as the heavy sigh coming after a storm of raw emotion. The equally haunting “Crazy Mary” is the release that comes after that heavy sigh. Like the majority of the album, it’s certainly not very uplifting, but it is the only song that seems to provide some sense of coziness. After listening to a plethora of music about divided people, it’s important for listeners to absorb this final, shining, moment of the album, which offers them to “take a bottle, drink it down” and “pass it around.”
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