Pearl Jam are explosive. Few American bands have arrived more clearly talented than this one did with Ten; and Vs. tops even that debut. Terrific players with catholic tastes, they also serve up singer-lyricist Eddie Vedder. With his Brando brooding and complicated, tortured masculinity, he’s something we haven’t seen in a while — a heroic figure. Better still, he’s a big force without bullshit; he bellows doubt.
Like Jim Morrison and Pete Townshend, Vedder makes a forte of his psychological-mythic explorations — he grapples with primal trauma, chaos, exultation. As guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready paint dense and slashing backdrops, he invites us into a drama of experiment and strife. “Animal,” “Daughter” and “Blood,” their terse titles urgently poetic, are songs of a kind of ritual passion, tapping into something truly wild.
And when Vedder roars, “Saw things … clearer … /Once you were in my rearviewmirror,” it seems that it’s not only some personal sorrow that he’s willing himself to tear beyond but the entire weight of the past itself.
Voicing the dreams and furies of a generation, Nirvana rock brilliantly in the now. They suggest a visceral understanding of rehab rites of passage and gen der overlap, stardom fantasy and punk nihilism. Their themes parallel both David Cronenberg’s “venereal horror” and David Lynch’s atonal wit, and their inchoate striving after feeling combats the blithe vacuity of outdated Warhol-style hipness. Blank generation? Not really, just young people fighting for some kind of meaning.
Nevermind, of course, spotlighted grunge and Seattle, making it obvious that in a hinterland far from America’s vigilant media capitals, space remained for uncooked vision. Punk guitar, pop hooks — the album sold trillions. And in Kurt Cobain it delivered a nervy singer and a mind representative of new, conventionally apolitical rebellion. With In Utero, Nirvana go deeper inside themselves; the prevailing mood is complex unease, tense with self-loathing and fitful pride. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” “All Apologies” and “Serve the Servants” are crisis music. Any real future will have to deal with the emotional overspill Nirvana’s songs bravely refuse to contain.