Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Guided Tour of Vs.: Blood

By Stip

(A Guided Tour: Vs.)
Blood crackles like few Pearl Jam songs do. Even the moments when it’s churning along (like Jeff’s bass part going into the bridge) the song still vibrates. Blood is a seizure, a musical electrocution that leaves you twitching even after the connection breaks at the end of the song.

Musically the song is a lot of fun, one of several necessary playful interludes on an otherwise overburdened record (which makes Vs. the easiest listen of the first three records. There is a sense of humor on a number of these songs that, if not always effectively executed, at least tries to lighten the mood). The humor is mostly in the music, but it’s there. The opening notes are a little too slick and shiny to take excessively seriously, and the 70s funk guitar in the verses lightens the mood. That’s not to say it’s a lightweight song. It’s too angry for that. But if Blood is not meant to be tongue in cheek, it’s at least able to smile while it screams (compare it musically to Habit, another very heavy song, one that may even be winking at the listener, but feels much more serious).

Eddie has written about drugs on a few songs (Habit, Severed Hand), but just as often it seems like he’s using drugs as a metaphor for something else (STBC, Gonna See My Friend), and that begins with Blood. The song is filled with the same heroin imagery as STBC, and the pictures in the liner notes make it clear for people not paying attention to the lyrics. But the dominant image in the booklet is the syringe next to the ball point pen, with their fluids dripping out and intermingling in the puddle below. So something else is going on here.

Blood is a song about feeling violated—if not the literal rape of Animal then an existential, spiritual rape alongside intimations of cannibalism. Blood is the cry of the sacrificial victims strapped down to the altar, the victim’s blood being spilled to please and placate the gods—in this case the entertainment media and its co-option of grunge culture and grunge artists. The reporter wielding the pen replaces the priest wielding the knife or the junkie wielding the needle. The ‘fucking circus’ lyric is a reference to the media circus and probably to a specific publication. His life fills their pages. He and his friends, his scene, his art, need to bleed in order to give them content and substance, to give them life. That he has become involuntarily complicit in feeding a machine that he hates makes this whole process even more perverse, and there’s a quiet moment in the bridge where Eddie acknowledges the irony before railing against it.

Eddie will deal with the same themes in a more sophisticated way on Vitalogy. Blood feels like a primal scream anticipating the more nuanced considerations these ideas get in songs like Last Exit, Not For You, Corduroy, Satan’s Bed, and Immortality. Ed’s throat shredding screams throughout the song, especially transitioning into the bridge, are intentionally abrasive---almost self destructive, as if he’s thinking ‘If I ruin myself, if there’s nothing left of me, there’s nothing more for you to take from me’.

All the component parts of Blood are pretty strong. Eddie screams with an elemental fury, the lyrics are pretty good, the music is fun without feeling like fluff. But, like Glorified G, I’m not sure they fit together as effectively as they could. This is a much stronger song than Glorified G because each of the component parts are better, but the playfulness in the music doesn’t mesh effectively with the soul ripping intensity of Eddie’s vocals. It feels almost like you’re listening to two separate songs. They’ll strike this balance a little more effectively in STBC and perfect it with Gonna See My Friend. Still, after the trance of W.M.A. Blood does an effective job ratcheting up the stakes of the record, and primes the listener for Rearview Mirror, arguably the most critical moment on the record.

Glorified G
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town