It's an unusual psychology to operate with when one is working in a populist medium, but some artists, sculptors, musicians and other performers are simply at their best when they feel like they're a dark horse in the race to attain popular taste or, if they've already got it, to maintain it. Maybe that adversity makes them work harder, maybe it makes them feel like they have something to prove, or maybe it's the space in which the artist or band in question is most comfortable because that oppressive air (or the perception of it) allows them to feel like they're coming from behind and so breeds the most potent, creative results for them, but it isn't unusual for an artist to deliberately construct or manipulate a scenario and put themselves in a position that forces them to overcome in order to survive; that desire transcends artistic discipline or musical genre.
Thus opens the review by Bill Adams of Ground Control Magazine. After opening with a little band history (no suprizes for the Pearl Jam elite), he proceeds to review all eight Pearl Jam studio albums. Though he does grade each album or the discography as a whole, it's not the kindest of reviews, although he seems to be trying to keep bias at bay. Here are some excerpts.
While the lion's share of the songs on Vs. do walk with a much-emboldened swagger that suits Pearl Jam's growth and the rise they experienced after the reception of Ten, that isn't to say it's a flawless offering. Both “W.M.A.” and “Rats” particularly are a little too meandering and tepid for their own good (a fact made unavoidable by Jeff Ament's far-too-soft and busy basslines which have been pressed too far forward in the mixes in contrast to both the harder-edged songs like “Go” and more dramatic ones like “Daughter”) but, blessedly, they function only as brief interludes and so not much focus lands on them.
Fifteen years later and it's still difficult to listen to Vitalogy. Now though, it's not because of the outside stimulus circulating at the time of the album's release—more that, on a comparative scale to the preceding albums, it just wasn't up to the standard already established. To date, Vitalogy still stands as the weak link in Pearl Jam's catalogue.
While Pearl Jam has always been linked (if only by virtue and coincidence of geography and timing) to the Grunge scene that aerated out of Seattle around the same time that Vedder and company happened to break through, it would be a grievous overstatement to say that they were ever poster boys for the genre. While their peers were crossbreeding punk, pop and metal to develop all-new brands of anthem, Pearl Jam was following trends found in classic rock (Pink Floyd-ian themes of alienation, disillusionment and frustration coupled with stomping rock in the vein of Neil Young & Crazy Horse along with the guitar heroics of Pete Townshend—all processed with a uniquely American sensibility of course) while occasionally slipping onto inroads of art rock territory. [...] With Binaural though, Pearl Jam inadvertently found a way to reconcile their art rock leanings with their increasingly warhorse, classic songwriting style.
Eight records in and five after they began struggling to decide what they wanted to say to their audience, Pearl Jam’s self-titled album lives up to the aforementioned ethos. For the first time since Vs., the assembled members of the last surviving grunge band have finally started writing together and actually sound like a band again; throwing all of their individual talents toward producing great individual songs rather than simply assembling an album’s worth of material. The results manifest themselves right away in the opening track, “Life Wasted,” and the point is made explicit—somewhere between the colossal flop that was Binaural and Pearl Jam, the band ceased throwing everything at the wall and has started editing their content again so that, rather than floating a couple of decent songs per album in a tepid pool of overindulgent dreck, there isn’t a single track on Pearl Jam that isn’t essential.