“Vs.” The Transformation of Pearl Jam


Roman Harrison, Columnist

When Pearl Jam burst onto the scene in 1991 with their debut album Ten many felt that it would not be possible to replicate that sort of success with their second LP. They were very mistaken.

After Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard were left without a band after their previous band, Mother Love Bone, disbanded due to vocalist Andrew Wood’s tragic overdose, they decided to form a new band. They called this band, “Mookie Blaylock,” after their favorite professional basketball player. Then, after picking up guitarist Mike McCready, with whom they had worked with in Temple of the Dog, they finally found a frontman and vocalist. His name was Eddie Vedder. Now that all the pieces were in place, they immediately began work on an album. This was to be Ten.

Eddie Vedder certainly had input on the making of the band’s debut album Ten, but it was limited, given, at this time, Pearl Jam was really Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament’s band, although, when Pearl Jam exploded as the face of the Seattle grunge scene, that face needed a face. That face came in the form of Eddie Vedder – a California surfer-type with a unique voice that displayed both a power and tenderness unmatched in the music industry. The explosion of Pearl Jam gave Vedder platform to display a voice that still can be seen today through his charity work for causes such as the environment, MusiCares and extensive work with and for veterans, especially those disabled in the line of duty. But his voice really came to fruition with his opinions being heard in the band. Vedder would have an extreme influence on the band’s sophomore project, an album called Vs.

After the massive popularity of Ten, the band began to feel the pressure of releasing a new album, and most importantly, it living up to the framework put down by their debut project. At this point, Eddie Vedder had sort of taken the band over. This was to be his album. In it he portrays his opinions on social issues such as the 1992 beating of Malice Green in the song “W.M.A.”

Vs. demonstrated that grunge was not simply rocking guitar riffs with heavy kick drum and a powerful voiced front man. Did it consist of those things? Certainly. But Vs. showed that it had more range than that. Acoustic ballads such as “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” one of my personal favorites, and “Daughter,” a song, according to Eddie Vedder, is about the bullying of children with learning disabilities and how, as he has said, good creative people are destroyed.

While listening to this song in preparation for writing this column, I rediscovered a song hidden away at track number nine that I only recall listening to on a few occasions. The song is called “Rats,” and along with the relatively simple and gruesome title, its lyrics portray a deep theme. In the song, it portrays rats as civilized and far superior. This is a sort of mockery of the human race, it hints that we as humans are on the same level as rats when the lyrics say, “Don’t take what’s not theirs,” which we, as well as rats, do. He then throws that thought process for a loop when he says “They don’t compare,” which, then, demonstrates that humans are worse than rats because of our mistreatment and calculated cruelty to others of our own kind.

The album closes out with another one of my personal favorites, “Indifference.” This song is a haunting ballad consisting of a chorus made up of only one line repeating “How much difference does it make?” This chorus pairs beautifully with the lines, “Swallow poison, until I grow immune,” and “I will scream my lungs out ‘til it fills this room,” a truly devastating song that proves to be the perfect send-off for such a terrific album.

If given the opportunity to listen to this album on a premium sound system, please do it. It is such a sensual experience to listen to. The composition of the instruments is impeccable through the complex drum beats and thick instrumentation, making it sound as if double or triple the amount of instruments are playing. This is combined with the dual guitars of McCready and Gossard that are unmatched as a duo through their complex riffs.

I’d say Eddie Vedder did pretty well with his first album at the helm of Pearl Jam, Vs. set an all-time record for first week album sales at 950,000 copies and spending five weeks at number one.