Friday, August 21, 2009

Vs. on Earvolution

OK, thank you, Earvolution, for helping with my Backspacer-overload.  There have been a few days in the past month that I have forgotten that Pearl Jam has eight other albums out there.

In the crush of new music that descends upon us every Tuesday and the eagerness to discover something new and revelatory, it’s fun to occasionally take a glance backwards and rediscover a record that has been in your collection all along. The news of the impending release ofBackspacer must have put Pearl Jam into my subconscious and it’s led to a renewed appreciation for their 1993 sophomore album Vs. In the months following the release of their debutTen, Pearl Jam found themselves on MTV and at the forefront of the grunge revolution. Bringing the sincerity back to rock and roll that the hair bands had all but drained free, grunge rock, especially Pearl Jam, made it feel OK to really love music once again. WithVs., Pearl Jam served notice that they would not be going away anytime soon. Of the bands that emerged from the Pacific Northwest in the early 90s, very few turned out to be one trick ponies. Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains all managed to beat the sophomore jinx and Cameron Crowe’s Singles capitalized on and helped perpetuate on the flannel draped scene.

On Ten, Vedder emoted his way through Pearl Jam’s debut like a less drugged out, more focused version of Jim Morrison, finding many listeners eager to get wrapped up in the band’s earnest commitment. Solidifying his status as a grunge-era Messiah, Vedder once again ripped open his soul on Vs. His penchant for dreamy murmuring would continue to obscure any attempts to decipher exactly what he’s singing but it never clouded the meaning; when he screams “it’s my blood,” there’s no doubting his sincerity. Moving from the howl of "W.M.A." through the calm reminiscent tones of "Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town," Vedder continued to carve out the niche and mold the persona that would define him and Pearl Jam for the next decade and a half.

Many of the trademarks of Pearl Jam’s future work can be found here: layered within “Animal,” Vedder intones the band’s five against one mantra as if in a trance and the band's acerbic political wit reveals itself for the first time on "Glorified G," a mocking jibe at the NRA and those who love their guns a little too much. On the opening strains of "Go," the albums first track, Jeff Ament's bass guitar boils as if simmered by the fires of Hell and its questionable whether guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard have ever sounded better in the studio, Vs. capturing their interplay at its finest. From the roadway rumble of “Rearviewmirror” and stadium-quality riffs of “Daughter” and Dissident" through the soft peaceful wash of “Indifference” that would mark much of their post-millennium output, McCready and Gossard turned the tried and true double guitar format on its head.

Pearl Jam's shot across the bow though is the phenomenal “Leash.” Embodying everything that makes rock and roll fantastic, Vedder’s howl to “drop the leash” carries as much weight as Roger Daltrey talking about his generation or Bob Dylan singing about what blows in the wind. It’s a clarion call to arms and rallying cry to the youth of the world to stand up and be heard. It would only be just the beginning.