Review Summary: Control Myself, CHAPTER 2: “I Swear I Never Took Her for Granted…”
‘Sophomore slump’ is a term thrown around by critics far too often. Whether it be seen as easier to just label a second record as such and be done with it or rather something actually be critically assessed, records such as The Clash’s Give ‘em Enough Rope
and Soundgarden’s Louder than Love
have befallen critical ignorance and in turn cultural insignificance; never mind the fact these records lived up to the hype and then some. It was with much excitement and trepidation that Pearl Jam’s Vs
release was invariably being prematurely appraised as pap to follow up the goliath success of Ten
. As Jeff Ament often commented in interviews, he could understand the ‘overrated’ tag being thrown their way when the only word on your friends and MTV’s mouth was ‘Pearl Jam’. But the band knew they had something to prove- far from being confined to the area of Music Press of bands who fell off the world after that
fantastic debut, Vs.
proved Pearl Jam as not only a confident musical body but one who could succeed far past trends and critical drubbing.
is remarkably everything a second album should be but often isn’t. The way it approaches its core material is one of both tight song writing and fully realised identity, wherein heaviness becomes unleashed and brutalised and the softness comes smooth and iridescently beautiful. The triplet of openers- the punk fury of “Go”, the naturally brilliant successor to “Even Flow” in “Animal” and the acoustic charm and campfire drawl of “Daughter”- prove Pearl Jam can not only improve upon a style but give it individual strength to songs in a way that Ten
wasn’t capable of. Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard now appear less focussed on simply retelling Oedipal set to guitar acrobatics, with the myriad of tracks stretching the mindless thrash of “Blood” to the raining down of guitar and vocals on the centrepiece “Rearviewmirror”. Variety doesn’t come now in simply shifting styles, it comes in the way the band approach a song with various walls of electric guitars never sounding alike.
The emergence of lyrical variety is the most prominent aspect ofVs.
, with Vedder making noticeable strides towards his burgeoning political self. The likes of “Glorified G.” juxtapose uplifting pop to a menacing tale of contrary beliefs of the Redneck ‘Merican, insisting that “I’ve got a gun/’fact I got 2/that’s ok man, ‘cos I love god!”, seeming ever more disturbing when propelled by the slinky southern riff and the uplifting verses and choruses. His emotional state too is laid evermore bare for the public to see- issues with abandonment appear tearful and angst-ridden on “Rearviewmirror”, while fan favourite “Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town” articulates sides of Vedder that weren’t prevalent when he was just another kid on the street. As he would later come to put more attention towards these aspects on the visceral “Not for You” or “Corduroy”, here he births despise of the rockstar he’s inadvertently being pushed towards.
The praise for Vs.
really does come in spades. For an album like Ten
to be followed up with such a brilliant release is confounding in rock & roll, not least because the concept of a ‘sophomore slump’ isn’t relevant. Over the course of only two and a half years, Pearl Jam expanded as songwriters and musicians alike. Of course, to hear Vedder perfect both his beautiful and harsh tones set to a tight and controlled band takes away much of the raw and down to earth charm of Ten
, and suffers too does the emotional impact, but that’s far from an issue and more a burgeoning concern. Tight and accessible, Vs.
was a worthy follow up that when compared to the difficult and experimental album that would follow, Vitalogy
, is the logical and pleasant step forward from Ten
. A landmark in the PJ discography and more than worth the time, it wasn’t until a year later that the bleak, extreme and instinctual side of Pearl Jam would rear it’s bruised and filthy head.
NEXT: “Shed My Skin At Last…”