"Pearl Jam's" second album was released on October 19, 1993, two years after the explosion of "Ten"
This album is the redhead of the match when it ignites...
It is a piece that was worked with a hammer and chisel and then polished with number 3 sandpaper...
If the band members claimed that on the first album, the production was excessive and the polishing was too smooth, here they take it in their own direction and do it their way (actually the way of most of them, because Eddie didn't like the studio). This is the first time that PJ has worked with producer Brendan O'Brien, a producer who knows how to take them in the direction they want and create with them together as a band.
This album was created under enormous pressure and against everything that the band wanted to happen, this is the well-known dissonance of "Pearl Jam", the desire to make good music, but without the success that came along with it or rather without the consequences of the success. "Ten" brought them exactly the opposite, although it took some time, but his breakthrough was meteoric and had a direct impact on the second album. Regardless of whether it was good or bad, the second album was destined for commercial success due to the momentum of the first album.
Just to make it clear, the album "Vs". Broke the sales record for an album in the first week (or rather five days), and it held this title for 5 years !!! "Vs." is also the only "Pearl Jam" album that jumped straight to number one on the Billboard (and if you read our review of "RUSH's" "Counterparts" album, you know that it stole the number one spot from the album that was released on the same day), and held it for 5 weeks. All this sounds amazing and phenomenal but this is exactly what the band did not want to happen... dissonance?? We already said that!!
(Photo: Gie Knaeps)
A short background
When the band members came to record the album in March 1993 after a non-stop tour and the insane success of the previous album, they first wanted to do everything not to flow this wave of success.
Part of the approach resulted in the fact that, although the album contained six successful singles, the band did not release a single music video for them, and in another case even omitted a song from the album (the song "Better Man" that would eventually appear on the next album), simply because producer Brandon O'Brien thought it would become a hit
As part of the enormous pressure the band experienced following the meteoric success of the debut album, Eddie Vedder experienced great difficulties in writing, and in one of the interviews, he even claimed that this was the album he had the least fun writing. Brandon tried to relieve some of the pressure by dragging the band members to play "softball" every day before the recordings. Imagine the band members every morning after the morning coffee going out for a short game to release pressure and only then entering the recordings. Another thing he did was get the PJ members to record together as a band. In a way, it was "Pearl Jam's" first album as a band, because they wrote the whole album together and no one came with pre-prepared material.
To this, must be added the reinforcement player - drummer Dave Abbruzzese who joined the band immediately after the release of the album "Ten" and was part of the tour. We talked about Dave's influences on the band, we mentioned him several times in our podcast and we will talk more about him later.
(Photo: Paul Bergen)
Another interesting detail is that the band recorded the album in a different way than was customary at the time, each time they worked on only one song and did not move on until they finished it, not only the writing but also the recording, arrangement, and mixing and only then did they allow themselves to move on to the next song.
Eddie, who is known for his total dedication, his social and political views, and his attitude toward the music industry, felt very uncomfortable during the recordings. The recordings took place in a modern and well-equipped studio with a pampering and relaxed atmosphere that was very suitable for Dave (this is where the relationship starts to crack) and perhaps also for the other members of the band, but not for Eddie. He didn't like Stone Gossard coming to recordings in a robe and flip-flops, he thought that in such an environment you don't create rock music but elevator music or dinner music, and at a certain point, he turned to Brandon and asked him to disappear for a few weeks. Eddie took his car and drove to San Francisco, he slept in the car for several weeks just to get out of his comfort zone. It's the discomfort that makes Eddie creative.
Before we get to the songs, let's talk a little bit about the album cover, which is also rough.
We talked about dissonance right... So the cover is a photo that Jeff Ament took on a farm in Hamilton Montana of a sheep (Angora) poking its head through a fence. The band members said they chose the photo because it represented what they were feeling at the time. That they are all slaves to the music industry, and that success has turned them into wounded and imprisoned animals unable to break through the barriers of the music industry.
The name of the album was also supposed to represent the same concept. Initially, the band gave the album the name, "Five Against One" taken from the first line of the song "Animal" - "One, two, three, four, five against one". This sentence refers to the five band members against one... Against the industry... Against themselves. The name was changed at the last minute, so there are still several tapes circulating in the world that bear the original name and not the final name which is "Vs".
(Photo: Joe Giron)
And now for the main course
Cases where a band succeeds in producing two consecutive masterpieces are rare, certainly when it comes to the first two albums and even more so when the band in general hates everything related to success. So whether the Fantastic Five intended it or not, they released a second masterful album in a row, a bomb album that maintains a high level throughout and that doesn't have a single weak song.
It opens with a fast-paced and sweeping bass-drum duel embellished with a random guitar line for the first 30 seconds of the song, a sort of stretching exercise before a sprint, and then... "Ready... Set... "Go" !! The song explodes right in our faces with 8 consecutive snare beats and this frantic song gets this album off the ground. It's amazing to think that the Abbruzzese was the one who came up with the riff that led to this crazy song, which will also be released as the first single from the album.
One day when all the members were doing a jam session, Dave pulled out a guitar and started playing the riff, and then Stone asked him what he was playing when suddenly Jeff joined in and Eddie started singing and the rest is history. Eddie hinted that this song is about his car, but there are those who claim that it is a song about child abuse and they draw their conclusion from the lines "Don't go on me versus "Don't you want me", as if the child is asking the parent why he is abusing him.
And if you put all your energy into sprinting, then it's a shame because it's going to be a long-distance run that continues with the crazy beat of "Animal" and one of the most beautiful and bouncy riffs this band has ever written. When this opening is played there is not even one foot left on the floor and not one head standing still. This song started with an instrumental part that Stone recorded as a demo and called "Weird A". Mike McCready's guitar solo on the song was also an unintended consequence. He played a solo for the band's guitar technicians not knowing that it would eventually be included on the album. The lyrics that start with five against one talk about the difficulty the band has with the music industry as we mentioned above.
We downshift and change to acoustics with "Daughter" one of the most beautiful and moving songs on the album which was released as the second single. The song talks about a girl with learning difficulties and her mother who doesn't understand the problem her daughter has. The first seeds of the song were planted during the "Ten" album tour when Gossard played to Vedder on the bus the chord progression that would later become the song. This defining moment can be seen in the 2011 documentary "PJ20" by director Cameron Crowe. By the way, the short instrumental break in this song serves as fertile ground for improvisations by the band members at concerts.
The first seeds that explain the reason for Dave being fired from the band after this album can be found in the fourth track of the album "Glorified G". The song was written by Eddie after he found out that Dave had purchased a gun. Dave and Eddie treated the dizzying success differently, Dave enjoying it while Eddie aggressively disliked it. As part of dealing with success, Dave decided to purchase a gun one day. Ament revealed this to Eddie during the writing for the album and Eddie was shocked. He approached Dave and asked him if he really bought a gun. Dave sarcastically replied that he actually bought two. Eddie immediately sat down and wrote the words "Got a gun, fact I got two/That's OK, man, 'cause I love God/Glorified"
The song "Dissident" is the fourth single released from the album. The song was almost ready in 1992, even before the sessions for the recording of the album and it talks about betrayal and the feeling of guilt that comes after it.
Ament's hypnotic bass line in the song "W.M.A." lays the foundation for a protest song against the violent force used by the police. The album's booklet includes an excerpt about a man named Malice Green, a black man who was killed by the Detroit police in 1992. However, in interviews with Vedder, he stated that the song is based on another case of police violence that he witnessed with his own eyes.
The song "Rearviewmirror" takes us on the highway and increases our pulse again with the fast and frantic rhythm and the circular, monotonous, and mesmerizing line of this song, in which Eddie tells how he runs away and breaks away from his stepfather whom he hates. If we learn from the composition, this escape was not easy at all for Eddie because every time we press the pedal and speed up, the breaks come, with the cutting riffs, and the guitars chuckle and slow us down before we go back and speed up. But don't worry, this breakup has a happy ending because Eddie's race car opens up afterburners towards the climactic ending leaving the hating dad with smoke that can be seen through the rearview mirror... and it's just unbelievable that this crazy song wasn't released as a single but just a sidekick to the song "Dissident".
We return to acoustics with the track with the longest name in history
"Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town", is a deliberate result of the band members suddenly realizing that most of their song titles have one or two words. This magical song was written mainly by Vedder and it talks about an exciting meeting between two people who haven't seen each other for a long time, the woman who stayed in the same town all these years, and the man who reunited with her in the end.
And yes, this album also includes all the songs with one word in the title, "Blood", "Rats", "Leash", and "Indifference", but we need to make the long story short.
Before ending, we will tell about another reason for the widening of the rift between Eddie and Dave, which eventually led to the separation of the two after the release of the album. After the recording of the album, the band had a legal conflict with Ticketmaster company because of the excessive ticket prices they claimed, when in this conflict Dave opposed the band's position and wanted to enjoy the money and success. Dave's attitude in this matter only intensified the differences between him and Vedder and is also one of the reasons why he was fired from the band!
This sentence will probably put us in the minority, but in our humble opinion, this is the last good album of the band as a studio album, until the release of the album "Gigaton" in 2020. This album brings back our youthful love for the band and its first albums. It has a collection of amazing and immortal songs, which both stand as individual masterpieces in their own right and create a masterful album, as was the case with the band's first two albums.
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