Pearl Jam

Epic Records, 1993


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I've often written about the sophomore slump - that is, the second album of a band not living up to the high expectations people place on it, making it weaker than their debut.

Back in 1993 when Pearl Jam released Vs. to a captive audience, I found myself mildly disappointed by it. I don't know what I hadn't liked about it, but there was something that didn't seem right. Had "The Daily Vault" been around back then, I probably would have given Vs. an average rating.

However, while preparing for Monday night's Pearl Jam concert in Chicago, I decided to dig into the Pierce Archives (Sorry, Coach Jackson, we're not hiring) and dust off my original copy of Vs. (anyone know if the original release - the one without an album title - is worth anything?). Surprisingly, this is an album that continues to get better with age - maybe because we've heard the experiments that Pearl Jam have tried over the years, this album seems mild in comparison.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Kicking off with an adrenaline rush in "Go" and "Animal," Eddie Vedder and crew prove off the bat they're not about to follow the pattern of Ten note-for-note. With new drummer Dave Abbruzzese in the fold, the band seemed to have the final piece they needed. Abbruzzese's drumming is incredibly technical, and to steal a line from Emeril Lagasse (doubt he's reading, but I love his show), the band kicked things up a notch.

You want proof? Listen to the fancy fills he throws into songs like "Daughter" and "Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town," two songs which still are my favorite Pearl Jam songs. The songs add an element of challenge to the melodies, making them all the more intriguing.

And it's not that Vedder and crew have forgotten how to rock out. "Rearviewmirror" is evidence that they still like the speedometer running high. Even songs like "Dissident" and "Rats" have quite a bit of charm behind them, even if they're not always radio-friendly.

Only two minor errors are made on Vs. One is that the band allows anger to get the better of them. "W.M.A." is an admirable attempt to speak out against racism and the murder of Malice Green a few years ago, but the song just doesn't take off like it should. (Another song based in anger, "Blood," is a better effort.) The other one, "Indifference," just isn't of the same caliber of the other songs.

So why does Vs. sound better five years after its release? This is a mystery, even to me, though what seemed like crazy experiments in sound in 1993 doesn't seem quite as wild, especially after the debacle known as No Code. Another helpful factor is that many of the hits off this one haven't been played to death on rock radio (as I've said before, I'm going to vomit if I hear certain songs off Vitalogy one more time). Nowadays, it's a pleasant surprise to hear material off Vs. on the radio.

Vs. was the album that certified Pearl Jam as superstars of the alternative scene. And while I wouldn't have said so in 1993, one listen to this album today makes it clear why they hit the big time with Vs.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.