The Vinyl Brew: Pearl Jam - Vs.

The Vinyl Brew: Pearl Jam - Vs.

Vs. by Pearl Jam

By Eamon O'Neill
1st June, 2000. Eddie Vedder is on stage in Dublin with Pearl Jam, and launches into an, on the surface, profound fable. “So, Back in Seattle I told this friend a story about a farmer, his son, and his horse”, he begins. “One day, this horse ran away and joined these other wild horses, so now it was just him and the son ploughing the fields, and it was going really slow”, he continues. “Then the horse comes back with all the other wild horses, and now he’s got six horses, right? And then a war breaks out…” With the sold out crowd hanging on his every word, an air of confusion began to permeate. Just where was this story going?
Still, Vedder continues, with the charismatic front man’s ramblings having seemingly no end in sight. A full two and a half minutes go by with things going off at tangents, and it seems the friend mentioned at the start of the tale was growing as tired of it as those standing in the arena. “Anyway, at this point when I was telling the story, my friend says; “what’s the point?!”, he finally concedes, before pausing dramatically; “I said, “oh, it’s this really great place to play in Dublin.”

From tedium to a bad pun - they were playing the Point Depot that night - what followed was an utterly combustible take on ‘Go’, the opening track from 1993’s ‘Vs.’ If any song was conceived to ignite a weary crowd, it was this one.
The follow up to 1991’s globe-conquering ‘Ten’, ‘Vs.’ saw Pearl Jam take their explosive debut and do it all again, only this time on their own terms. In their eyes, that album had been just a little too polished, and they’d toed the company line, doing countless interviews and making promo videos. Now one of the biggest bands in the world, they were determined to do things differently.

With Vedder fully integrated as part of the songwriting team - most of ‘Ten’s music had been conceived by guitarist Stone Goddard and bassist Jeff Ament before Vedder had joined the band - ‘Vs.’ was conceived from the start in stark contrast to their debut. “We allowed things to develop in a more natural, band-oriented way, rather than me bringing in a bunch of stuff that was already arranged”, revealed Gossard - composer of eight of ‘Ten’s eleven tracks - in a February 1994 interview with Guitar World magazine. Much more collaborative than its predecessor, the music was credited to the band as a whole, with even drummer Dave Abbruzzese coming up with the guitar riff to ‘Go’. “By letting everybody jump on board and contribute, ideas popped up and developed naturally”, continued the guitarist; “The band has opened in a way that allows everybody to continue to explore that creative space.”
Comprising twelve songs, ‘Vs.’ carried with it an air of defiance, from its title to the lack of any music videos promoting it. Kicking off with the aforementioned ‘Go’, it was followed by the primal rock of ‘Animal’, a visceral, grooving dirge that referenced the album’s original title of ‘Five Against One’. With a much rawer, cutting production courtesy of Brendan O’Brien, this was a band with much more bite than ever before.
However it wasn’t all muscle, and in ‘Daughter’, they had something altogether different. Utilising Jimmy Page-esque open tuning, the laid back acoustic track - perfect for the times, with MTV Unplugged at its height - was a breath of fresh air in the otherwise edgy musical climate. Gentle, and whimsical in nature, it countered in its second half when Vedder erupted with the empowering line “she will rise above”. The song has since proven ‘Vs.’ most enduring track, with an incredible 176 million streams on Spotify at the time of writing.

Conversely, almost playful in tone, ‘Glorified G’ denounced gun culture, while the anthemic ‘Dissident’ was most reminiscent of their ‘Ten’ material. The dub jam of ‘W.M.A’, meanwhile, was as far removed from ‘Ten’ as they’d get on this outing.
Flipping to side two, and the punky ‘Blood’ preceded what is arguably, ‘Vs.’ defining track; ‘Rearviewmirror’. A relentless drive that rarely took the foot off the gas, it epitomised the grunge era perfectly. Featuring Vedder on guitar along with Gossard and Mike McCready, its infectious riffing and moody melodies remain among the album’s high points.
‘Rats’ meanwhile, might just be the most underrated song on the album. Rumbling along on a slinky Ament groove, it was both sinister, and menacing. 
Elsewhere, the wordy title of ‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town’ was a self-lampooning gesture at their overuse of single-word song titles. Breaking out the acoustics again, it’s ‘Vs.’ second most popular song.
With the album coming to an end, ‘Leash’ was a playful celebration - sample lyric; “we are young, drop the leash!” - however ‘Vs.’ hidden gem is tucked away right at the end. Hauntingly beautiful, and dripping with melancholy, ‘Indifference’ is perhaps the most underrated track of their career. A subtle slow burner with Hammond organs that creep in, Ament’s bass harmonics and Gossard’s subtle licks conjure a mood of pained resignation. It’s simply masterful.
Celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in 2023, Sony Music have reissued ‘Vs.’ as both a special remastered double vinyl set, and as a limited edition single edition on clear vinyl.
‘Ten’s astounding success caught the band off guard, but really, who could have foreseen just what that album, and the whole grunge movement would do to the musical landscape, youth culture, and beyond. With ‘Vs.’ Pearl Jam took hold of the reins, regained control, and steered themselves through the choppy waters of the early to mid 1990s, coming out on the other side as Seattle’s sole survivors.
Pearl Jam’s strength was in their brotherhood; “you have to grow together”, concluded Gossard in that Guitar World piece; “It’s getting a lot less terrifying”, he revealed; “I’m growing more comfortable riding that bicycle all the time.”
Album Details
Vs. was released on 19th October 1993 and is available to buy at Vinyl8.
1. Go - Pearl Jam
2. Animal - Pearl Jam
3. Daughter - Pearl Jam
4. Glorified G - Pearl Jam
5. Dissident - Pearl Jam
6. W.M.A. - Pearl Jam
7. Blood - Pearl Jam
8. Rearviewmirror - Pearl Jam
9. Rats - Pearl Jam
10. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town - Pearl Jam
11. Leash - Pearl Jam
12. Indifference - Pearl Jam

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