Pearl Jam Vs.
Published Mar 28, 2011Given the ubiquity of the songs on Vs., one has question the need for Pearl Jam's current reissue campaign. It's not as if these tunes ever went away. Vs. isn't that far removed from the classic rock tropes of the band's debut, infusing Ten's riffing and soloing with a degree of punk fury most young teenagers at the time had never heard. It was Eddie Vedder and co.'s giant middle finger to a world that was trying to cage them in. And it was also where the band decided to quit playing music industry games, refusing to make music videos, a move whose only modern equivalent would be shirking the internet entirely. Yet Vs. still set the record for most albums sold in a single week and netted the band a slew of now classic modern rock hits. Listening 18 years later, the album holds together better than its predecessor, where massive anthems like "Alive" tend to stop the record's flow dead in its tracks. "Leash" has lost much of its anti-establishment bite and now sounds more like a relic of youth than an anthem for it. But opener "Go" and subsequent rockers like "Animal" and "Rearviewmirror" set the tone. Then there's the issue of "Daughter" and "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town"; the record's two acoustic ballads have somehow survived nearly two decades of dorm room butchering and provide much needed respites from Mike McCready and Stone Gossard's screeching guitars. Bonus cuts "Hold On" and instrumental "Cready Stomp" are proof positive that Pearl Jam could write toss-off B-sides better than most '90s rockers' best material. But "Crazy Mary," the band's cover from the Victoria Williams tribute, Sweet Relief, is perfect choice; it's a character exploration similar to "Elderly Woman…" And while it lacks that song's snappy brevity, it showcases Pearl Jam's ability to create ambience and mood just as well as they write memorable guitar licks. Vs. laid the groundwork for rock radio as we know it today, but its pure, visceral energy and lack of self-important pretensions elevate it above the rote field it created. (Epic/Legacy)