Review Summary: Vs is not a continuation of Ten, nor is it a radical departure. Instead, it is Pearl Jam presented the way the band initially intended.
If Pearl Jam had known that every album they released after Ten
would be compared to their seminal debut with such intense scrutiny, maybe they'd have avoided Rick Parashar like the plague. It was his production that dusted every inch of sound on the album in an epic reverb that turned rim shots into coughs in a cathedral.
Obviously, there's more to it that that.
Pearl Jam never wrote another album that sounded exactly
like Ten -- something no critic or fan has ever failed to point out -- vigorously
. The list of bands with Pearl Jam's longevity and success that have found each release compared (usually negatively) to their debut album is short indeed. But the loudest complaints came with release of the criminally under-appreciated No Code
and grew stronger with each successive release. And while the band was shunning success as early as '92, the music they were writing for their sophomore effort would cast brighter onto them the white hot light they had begun working so earnestly to avoid.
Despite refusing to make a video for the album's singles, shunning TV appearances, cancelling promotional dates and not even including the title anywhere on the cover or back artwork, Vs
would become the fastest selling album of all time, with over 950,000 units sold in the first five
days following release. It debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, outselling the next nine acts on the list combined. It remained there for five weeks and spawned four radio hits in Go
and number one hit Daughter
. Pearl Jam was now the biggest rock band in the world, for better or worse.
While the band may have been thinking "Please go away", Eddie Vedder screams "Don't go out on me, don't go out on me now!" in Vs‘
blistering opener, Go
. It is clear from the very beginning of this album that the stakes have been raised and the band now has more direction over their presentation. The result is a stripped down, raw sound that replaces the stadium bombast of Ten
with a punk aesthetic that gives each song -- especially the myriad of heavy rockers -- a disarming urgency. Go
form the most potent 1-2 punch the band would ever record. Gossard's riffs crunch and lurch heavier than ever without mixing board affectations muddling the sound while Mike McCready offers tasteful solos backed by Ament's winding, often fretless bass attack.
, there is no filler present. Rockers like Dissident, Leash and Rearviewmirror and ballads Daughter, Elderly Woman and Indifference are among the best work the band has released. Even oddities like W.M.A. and Blood are cathartic releases, the latter is especially interesting, as it's easily the closest to metal
the band ever approaches. McCready's single layer of clean guitar manages to keep the song from crossing over completely. Vs
finds Pearl Jam incorporating funk into their sound to great effect and while it works throughout, never does it come together quite as perfectly as it does on Rats, an underappreciated song that might be the best on the album. The guitar work is interesting and engaging, Ament's yeoman-like bass work winds and turns while Eddie Vedder's emphatic vocals compare humans unfavorably to rodents.
Also featured prominently is new drummer Dave Abbruzzese, who is at least partly responsible for Pearl Jam's more visceral sound. The band never sounded the same after his firing in 1994, for better or worse. He was the most versatile and talented of any of the band's succession of kitmen and his performances on Vs
and MTV Unplugged are exemplary.
is not a continuation of Ten
, nor is it a radical departure. Instead, it is Pearl Jam presented the way the band initially intended and it all comes together to make it the best, most consistent album they would ever release.