Review Summary: 'Restless soul, enjoy your youth'...
Epic Records, 1994
Pearl Jam is...
Eddie Vedder: Vocals
Mike McCready: Guitar
Stone Gossard: Guitar
Jeff Ament: Bass
Dave Abbruzzese: Drums
In 1994, following the release and tour of their second album, Vs., Pearl Jam once again paid a visit to their studio in Seattle, deciding to record their new album, Vitalogy. While Vs. had been a melancholy, experimental record, in stark contrast to their debut Ten, the members of Pearl Jam had different plans and a new direction in which to take their music. The strange album cover and packaging, made to make like an old medical booklet, proves that this new style of music is going to be a strange one.
Lyrically, this album is dark as hell. While previous Pearl Jam songs showcased a type of depression and sadness, this has been greatly emphasized here, making the lyrics seem like they deal with hopelessness without salvation. Eddie Vedder has superb songwriting talent, and certainly manages to showcase it here. Drug addiction, lost love, death, and pain are all issues touched upon here, as well as the death of Kurt Kobain in the beautiful 'Immortality'. Interestingly, the most lyrically pleasant song is also the most musical aggressive. 'Spin The Black Circle', while it comes off as an angry punk rock song, is actually written about the band's love of vinyl records.
Although it may be due to different production, Eddie Vedder's vocals seem to have been down-tuned from the previous two albums. His voice seems to be less clear and more hoarse than ever before. Despite these minor changes in the vocal style, Vedder's performance as a singer is still outstanding. He is capable of screaming and shouting on the hard rock tracks ('Spin The Black Circle', 'Whipping'), and singing softly and calmly on the ballads ('Better Man', 'Nothingman', 'Immortality'). This vocal range and dexterity make this album all the more enjoyable to listen to.
Vitalogy takes an entirely new musical direction, with the instrumental section shifting their styles altogether. Many songs have a near funky beat to them, while the ballads are softer and eerier than ever before. Various guitar effects are applied here to give each song a different feeling and tone. The guitar solos found on previous Vs. and Ten have become almost non existent, with the guitars often holding the same riff for entire songs. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, certain sections in songs feel like they could use a brief guitar solo. The bass is often very hard to hear over the guitar and vocal noise, which is another disappointment, due to the fact the Jeff Ament is a very adept bassist, capable of writing spectacular bass lines. The drumming is also quite straightforward, with no real focus on technicality or proficiency. This works fairly well with the rest of the album, but sometimes the repetitive beats can start to lose their charm as their respective song trudges on.
Great improvements have been made on the ballads found here. Each one of the three ballads manage to be unique and interesting. 'Nothingman' is moody and atmospheric, with a slow buildup and depressing lyrics. 'Better Man' builds up with the various instruments joining in, eventually becoming a full out rocker. 'Immortality' manages to be gorgeous, profound, catchy, and instrumentally sound, shifting tempos and providing an amazing musical experience.
Out of all of the issues that manage to befall Vitalogy, the major one is the overuse of filler. The songs that are meant to be experimental and interesting just manage to come off as being rather boring filler. This is particularly true with the album closer, 'Hey Foxmandlephelia, That's Me'. This song is a song designed to test patience and metal health. At more than seven minutes, it is the longest song on the album, and by far the most tedious. It is mostly made up of strange effects and unpleasant drum beats with strange, distorted, repetitive vocals repeating over top. 'Pry, To', while only a minute long, is extraordinarily unnecessary. The interesting guitar and drums found on this song make it into a disappointment as well as an annoyance, as it is clear that they could have made an entirely new, better song off of their instrumental material. 'Aye Davanita' is interesting at first, but eventually wears out it's welcome. 'Bugs' has some interesting, comical lyrics and interesting musical backing that seems as if it belongs on a Tom Waits album. However, like most filler, the charm of listening to it wears off quite quickly.
Overall, Vitalogy is quite a solid album, and shows Pearl Jam taking yet another direction with their music. While not as consistent and their previous albums, it is still an enjoyable listen, and, despite all of it's issues, manages to be quite excellent.
-Not For You
-Spin The Black Circle