Monday, October 3, 2011
Vs. - Pearl Jam
I was up in Seattle over the summer and I heard some guys on the radio talking about Pearl Jam's 20th anniversary which shocked me. It made me feel old because to some extent I still think of Pearl Jam as a modern group. I could hardly believe it had been 20 years already since the release of "Ten." I was never a huge fan of the group, I think I liked them more for what they represented than their actual music - the battle with Ticketmaster, their respect for their fans and the indie ethos, their political activism and anti-Bush rhetoric and their commitment to vinyl. I recently saw Cameron Crowe's new movie about the band, "Pearl Jam Twenty." It is a great film, one of the best documentaries about a band that I've ever seen, I was enormously impressed and even moved by it. In one of my favorite clips, Eddie Vedder holds up a CD of "Ten" and tells the camera that he wishes it was an album instead. My thoughts exactly. This was the first record of theirs that I bought and I mostly bought it because I was so pleased that the group was still releasing albums on vinyl. In those dark days, vinyl seemed doomed and Pearl Jam's almost quixotic effort to keep the format alive deserved my support. I wasn't sorry I bought it though, it is a terrific record and it remains my favorite of all their albums. The album kicks off with the high energy "Go" with Vedder pleading for something or someone to "don't go out on me." His manic vocal is full of desperation and urgency and Mike McCready shreds his way through a killer guitar solo. It is followed by the tortured "Animal" which is another outstanding rocker. "Daughter" is a classic song about a child with a learning disability. There is a glimpse of Vedder and Stone Gossard composing the song in "Pearl Jam Twenty." "Glorified G" is a sarcastic anti-gun song, Vedder has never been shy about flexing his liberal muscles and I admire him for that. "Dissident" is another classic song that describes a woman who shelters a fugitive and then turns him in. Vedder's powerful vocal on it is one of my favorites. "W. M. A." is about racism (it stands for White Male American) and features some wonderful tribal-style drumming from Dave Abbruzzese. It ends a great side of music. Side two opens with the ferocious "Blood" with Vedder screaming invective at what I assume is the media. "Rearviewmirror" is the poppiest song on the album with its hypnotic riff and catchy chorus. Vedder is still pissed though, he is trying to escape from his tormentor in his car. The funky "Rats" pointedly compares rats to humans with rats coming out on top. I don't share Vedder's fondness for the rodents, but I do enjoy his scathing comments on human bad behavior, the man does have a lively sense of outrage (to borrow an expression from Andrew Sarris.) "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" is yet another classic song. In contrast to the aural assault on most of this hard rocking album, it is a quiet song about a woman in a small town who encounters an old flame which leads to a rumination about small towns and the passage of time. It is one of the most beautiful songs in the Pearl Jam canon with a warm, heartfelt Vedder vocal. The anger returns with "Leash" a song of youthful rebellion with the memorable chorus "drop the leash, drop the leash, get out of my fucking face." The slow moody ballad "Indifference" concludes the side. It is a depressing song, although the line "I will scream my lungs out till it fills this room" could easily be Vedder's personal credo. Thus ends one of the best albums of the 1990s. Happy anniversary Pearl Jam, I'm so glad you guys stuck it out, those are twenty years to be proud of. Recommended to people who think rock music should really mean something beyond the ringing of a cash register.