photo & text by nacrowe
when i moved to NIGERIA in late 1995 while still in elementary school, i was well familiar with PEARL JAM's TEN (EPIC, 1991) and VITALOGY (EPIC, 1994) records, but somehow missed the boat entirely on the album in-between, VS. (EPIC, 1993). while TEN is an intense album full of psychic and emotional cathasis and VITALOGY more of an sonic experiment into unorthodox song structures, instrumentation and pastiched found audio, VS. has always to my ears been the sound of a band discovering who they are aurally and lyrically.
you get the sense listening to VS. that singer and co-songwriter EDDIE VEDDER was coming to grips with his unforeseen celebrity by diving further into the uncelebrated and largely forgotten lives of ordinary people around him, writing touching vignettes such as "DAUGHTER" and "ELDERLY WOMAN BEHIND THE COUNTER IN A SMALL TOWN." this thread of their songwriting places them in the vein of AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC and the likes of WOODY GUTHRIE, PETE SEEGER, BOB DYLAN and even BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. writing character pieces delighting in the daily struggles of anonymity is something i dont equate with their SEATTLE peers at the time in ALICE IN CHAINS, SOUNDGARDEN or NIRVANA. again, its indicative of a deeper thread of AMERICAN narrative music.
relatedly VEDDER and his bandmates were not afraid of tackling social issues like WHITE PRIVELEDGE / POLICE BRUTALITY and GUN VIOLENCE in tracks like "W.M.A." (meaning WHITE MALE AMERICAN) and "GLORIFIED G." looking back it still feels like a courageous move to make an album tackling such issues on your sophomore release, with all that was riding career-wise on this record. but then again, you get the feeling that with PEARL JAM, much like previous incarnations of the group in MOTHER LOVE BONE and GREEN RIVER, they would rather risk commerciality with authenticity. for better or worse, PEARL JAM has been true to themselves and their beliefs, even when falling on their face. can't fault them for that.
my favorite track on the record is the plodding, slow-paced dirge that is "INDIFFERENCE." its the perfect song when thinking about the meaninglessness and ultimate futility of our individual pursuits and struggles. it is almost BUDDHIST in how it forces you to acknowledge the inconsequential and often false nature of your lived experience to make you see that this moment is all you have. it is the indifference of natural order that gives each moment its spur and passion. choose how you spend them thoughtfully and judiciously is how i always took it. the song is almost a challenge in that sense.
VS. is often forgotten in comparison to TEN, but is well worth revisiting again. definitely worth the effort.