Vs.

You'd think an instantly popular young band would fear a backlash when it came time to make its second album. Pearl Jam seemed to welcome one. With 1993's Vs., they pitted themselves against the grunge masses they helped create, crafting a dozen punked-out songs that left behind the Jumbotron ambition of their debut, Ten. Eddie Vedder, a dedicated surfer, jettisoned everything Zen in favor of a primal take on human disconnection. "Animal," "Blood" and "Leash" obliquely reference rape and drug addiction; "Rats" creams a surprisingly funky beat with pummeling guitar while comparing the title critters to people — favorably. On this newly remastered version (which tosses in three nonessential bonus tracks, including a sweet, stripped-down version of "Hold On"), the songs sound steelier than ever. But despite his rage, Vedder was also more willing than his peers to dip into folky beauty. Kurt Cobain never wrote a tune like the acoustic heartbreaker "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," which, for all its gloominess about life's long ebb, loyally marks an unforgettable moment in an anonymous existence.

Pearl Jam in Posters: A Gallery of Illustrated Tour Art

On 1994's Vitalogy (also remastered; both albums are available together in a deluxe package that adds in an especially muscular live show from '94), Vedder vented more frustrations — with fans, heroin's reach, even popular music itself. Look past the oddities — the wheezing-accordion weird-out "Bugs" - and the loathsome "Not for You," a fuck-you to album and ticket buyers, and you'll find classics like the frenzied adrenaline shot "Spin the Black Circle" and the effervescent ballad "Better Man." Vitalogy highlights a key element of Vedder's anger: It's always directed outward, not in. That can make him hard to love. But his anguish fueled an intensity Pearl Jam haven't matched since.

Vitalogy Reissue: Four Stars

Video: The Vs./Vitalogy Box Set Trailer

From The Archives Issue 1128: April 14, 2011
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