Saturday, April 22, 2006

Pearl Jam - Vs

So here we are. The end of my countdown to my favourite Pearl Jam album of all time. I suspect this choice comes as no surprise to many of you. This is the album that confirmed to me that Pearl Jam were going to be a band that I would associate myself with for a very long time. I was already a fan after Ten, but this served as confirmation of my fledgling love for the band's music. Not only is it my favourite PJ album of all time, it is also my favourite album full stop (with OK Computer, In Utero and Superunknown closely behind). I am especially proud of the fact that I have one of the early pressings which does not have the title printed on the artwork (the final title was a late choice) - admittedly it doesn't make it financially valuable, but it does make it a very precious CD.

At the time, this album broke the record of being the fastest selling album of all time. The anticipation upon its release was huge. The band had begun to overtake Nirvana in terms of sales, and they were becoming HUGE. Although not a radical departure from Ten, it was seen as one of the releases of the early 1990s. It displays a passion and aggression not matched on some of their later albums (many PJ fans still wish that they would recreate the sound of Vs).

The album opens with Go and Animal, two frantic heavy rock songs. The two songs together are like a one-two from Ali. You sense that they barely draw breath between the two songs as the drums, guitar and bass are pretty frantic to say the least on the opening tracks (if you listen carefully to the end of Go, you can hear the sound of Dave's sticks flying across the room - he was being pushed really hard by the others on the song, and he threw his sticks in frustration) . Eddie's voice is as powerful as ever, the passion really begins to overflow as you reach the end of Animal. Without doubt this is the best opening to any Pearl Jam album - not even Last Exit and Spin the Black Circle can compete).

Daughter is a slow paced song, bringing the album to a period of calm. It is another example of the writing that Eddie is best at, using lyrics to tell a story. In this case, it tells the story of a girl with dyslexia. It also shows the band's new confidence working with acoustic guitars, a confidence they had developed as a result of their experience on MTV Unplugged. A staple on their tours, it has proved a very popular song with the PJ faithful.

Glorified G is a rant against gun loving Americans. Eddie was influenced on this track by a conversation between Jeff and Dave about guns. Most of the lyrics are apparently lifted from the conversation (although which ones, and how true this is, is open to debate). It works around a Southern sounding guitar and lyrics like 'Feel so manly/When armed'. A powerful song, Eddie seems to be in some pain as the song nears its end. Powerful stuff.

Next up is Dissident. This is the tragic story of a woman who is hiding a dissident before eventually she 'folded'. She then seems to regret the decision and casts her mind back to the events. Another example of the story telling style that Eddie seems to love so much, it is hung together on another beautiful guitar riff.

W.M.A (White Male America) has proved a difficult song for the band to reproduce live. Built upon a tribal drum beat, it hints at some future experimentation without straying to far from their usual sound. It tells the story of police brutality using such evocative lines as:

'Trained like dogs
Colour and Smell
Walks by me to
Get to him'
The song appears to reference an attack on a man called Green who died as a result of police brutality. The lyrics in the booklet show a picture of Green with the following passage from a newspaper report:
'Autopsy results showed Green died of at least 14
blows to the head in a Nov 5 beating that tore off part of his
scalp.'
Next up is the punky Blood. This is clearly a song about Eddie's feelings towards the media. Parts of the song are screamed so loud you fear he is going to lose his voice! This song really expresses his loathing of fame and media intrusion, a theme that was going to grow over time. The song contains such wonderful lines as 'Paint Ed big/Turn Ed into/One of his enemies', one of my favourite PJ lyrics.
rearviewmirror is my all time favourite PJ song. When played live it is awesome, the band riffing around the melody and going all out. In a previous performance Eddie told the crowd to listen to the song 'in a car really fast, driving away from someone you hate' it dovetails nicely with Daughter through the reference the 'shades are raised' (the shades go down in the previous song). It is about someone getting away from a repressive force, 'Once and for all/I'm
far away.'
Rats is a rather damning critique on human nature, much like Do the Evolution. Built on a funky bass, it is a comparison of human beings alongside our rodent friends. Unfortunately, the rats seem to have the upper hand as Eddie concludes 'they don't compare'.
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town was a nod to the band's one title songs. An acoustic number, it contains beautiful lyrics such as:
'Cannot find a candle of thought
To light your name'
Once again, Eddie is on top form, beautifully showing the range of his voice. Oh man, that voice is wonderful.
Leash is the perfect song to play loud when someone has pissed you off. How can anyone not love lyrics like:
'Drop the leash
Get out of my fucking face'
Ok, so it is a bit adolescent, but whenever things get out of control, when people get in my face, when I want to go mental at someone....I just play this song real loud in my car and suddenly I feel so much better. Ah, the rebellious nature of youth. 'Drop the Leash......'
Indifference is another slow burning closer. It feels kinda strange at the end of the album, after all the aggression and punk attitude. However, it closes things nicely and has a relaxed chill out vibe to it. Which, to be fair, is probably much needed. I mean I feel exhausted and invigorated in equal measure by the time we reach the album's close. Again the lyrics are fantastic such as:
'I will make my way
through one more day in hell'
A sentiment we can all appreciate at any time (perhaps now, more than ever).
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this journey through the back catalogue of the most talented rock band on the planet. I hope that it has encouraged some of you to either revisit your collection or buy a copy of one of their great albums. If you haven't done so, check out a clip of one of their new songs through an earlier post of mine. I will post a review of the new album upon it's release on May 1st. I can't wait and I hope you are excited by the prospect of a fantastic new PJ album. Welcome back Pearl Jam!!
Stand out Tracks: Go, Animal, Daughter, Dissident, W.M.A., Blood, rearviewmirror, Leash, Indifference.