Given the time period of my musical awakening, it’s probably not surprising to see certain bands and albums show up on this list. I grew up in the era of alternative and grunge being king. To be fair, it’s kind of surprising that the big four grunge bands don’t make more appearances on this list than they do.
But eventually, I do have to cover a few of them, although the choice of Pearl Jam’s Vs. might throw some people off.
“Why Vs.? Why not Ten?”
A fair question to ask.
Second albums tend to get a bit of a bad wrap and in many cases, rightfully so. There is a saying that goes something along the lines of “You have a lifetime to write your first album. You have six months to write the second.” And while Pearl Jam did wait two years to record their follow-up album, you’ve got to remember that during that time they were touring, doing awards shows, music videos and press.
I received my copy of Pearl Jam’s Ten well after I had Nirvana’s Nevermind and while I liked it, it wasn’t until much later in life that I appreciated it as a full album. Vs., however, hit me right in the ears the moment I hit play.
Vs. is an interesting second album and really marks what I think help set Pearl Jam apart from a number of other bands of their era. Pearl Jam really could have coasted on the sound of Ten for another three albums and probably made enough money to live nice lives until the end of their days. But Vs. takes what the did with Ten and pushed their boundaries a bit, setting the stage for what the would be able to do with the rest of their albums.
I bought my copy of Vs. on a cold, sleet-filled night from a record store that no longer exists. It was right beside where I took guitar lessons and maybe that’s what influences my love of Vs.. While I was not nor am I now a great guitar player by any standard, during the period I was taking lessons, I tended to listen to a lot of guitar driven music whether it be the blues or industrial and Vs. scratches that itch on a number of levels.
The album starts up with “Go”, a song that just demands urgency and to be paid attention to. Right away you can tell something is different with the band. The sound of “Go” is still professional but doesn’t seem quite as slick-sounding as Ten was (the remaster of Ten has changed that a little).
From “Go”, things go into a little more of a familiar tone with “Animal” which wouldn’t have been too out of place on Ten but it’s with the third track we see the band starting to explore a little.
Songs like “Daughter” and “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” and “Indifference” show a softer side to Pearl Jam. But while each song is a quiet, all three are rather different to one another. “Daughter” and “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter” are almost slices of life songs and “Indifference” really feels like it comes from the soul of Eddie Vedder.
There’s also “W.M.A.” which sounds completely different than the other tracks on the album with its almost tribal beats and rhythms.
The band also takes a crack at their love of punk with songs like “Blood.”
For me, the standout track from Vs. would have to be “Rearviewmirror.” There is something very epic about it and while it starts like a song that could have been on their first album, it ends as a bridge to what we may hear from the band later on.
At the end of the day, I always feel like Vs. is the forgotten album in the Pearl Jam canon, which is a little weird given the songs that came off of it that still regularly make their live sets. Vs. sounds more… complete to me than Ten did and even a couple of their other future albums. Maybe it’s because they worked on Vs. all together whereas a lot of the songs on Ten were already in certain stages of development by the time Eddie Vedder came along.
Despite the variance in the songs, Vs. sounds like a complete album. There is a flow to it of sorts. Every song sounds like it is exactly where it should be despite some interesting turns between songs.
And if for nothing else, Vs. is an album that proves that sometimes, the second album can be better than the first.