Pearl Jam's Vs. at 30
In 1993, it felt like the entire world was waiting for this record to come out. Thirty years later, does it still hold up?
Today we’re taking a quick look at Pearl Jam’s Vs. album as it turns 30
The title of Pearl Jam’s sophomore album, Vs. says a lot.
The band was grappling with expectations following the massive success of their debut, Ten. They were fighting the exhaustion of relentless touring, interviews, and press conferences. They were girding for a fight with Ticketmaster- one that would see the band testify on Capitol Hill.
And they were fighting their own ideas of what they should sound like.
“They were writing all these articles … Our band against somebody else’s band. What the hell are they talking about? You know, don’t try to separate the powers that be. We’re all in this together.”
The success of its predecessor, Ten, put the band in a bright spotlight. In a lot of ways, it felt like Pearl Jam was not only carrying their reputation on the record’s back but also the entire grunge movement.
It’s hard to explain to a world used to streaming everything, but by this point, most Pearl Jam fans were already on their 2nd (or 3rd ) cassette copy of Ten. Some had finally given in and bought the CD. Like Nirvana’s Nevermind, it was the soundtrack to an entire era.
To say that anticipation ahead of this record was massive would be a huge understatement. Record stores would open at midnight for fans to grab a copy of the record the “minute” it was available for certain releases. Countless articles would be written in the days/weeks leading up to the big day. Radio stations would only add to the excitement. We didn’t yet know it, but this was the tail end of the age of record releases being events.
Thirty years later, listening to Vs. and Ten back to back is like listening to two different bands.
Ten opens with Once and never lets us go. The band repeated that formula on their sophomore album VS. Go kicks the album off and hits 8000 RPM inside 30 seconds. There are the harder tracks like Blood & Leash (this author’s favorite), alongside more poignant tracks like Daughter.
Eddie Vedder’s voice is the same, but after that the list of similarities is short. The band’s sound is looser and rawer, as if they’re trying to bottle up their live sound on a studio record.
New drummer Dave Abbruzzese, hits the drums as if his life depends on it. Every chord Mike McCready strikes feels like he’s touching a power line.
Some of that is also down to (then) new producer Brendan O’Brien, whom the band would go on to forge a long relationship with, including their Lightning Bolt album, which turned ten a couple of days ago.
Vs. is a record constantly on the verge of bursting into flames.
Did it work?
At this point, it’s hard to argue the record’s success. The album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, sold almost 1 million copies in its first week, and stayed there for the next five weeks. Despite the band doing very little promotion and refusing to make videos for the singles, the record went on to go 7x platinum.
I think it’s one of the stronger releases in their discography. To my ear, it sounds as good now as it did on Day 1. In fact, I’d take that a step further and say it sounds less dated than Ten does—and I love that album. It also feels like a record. It’s sequenced really well from start to finish, with the highs & lows in the right spots, making it feel like a complete work. Listening to it today in the age of singles, that is readily apparent.
Not bad for a record that Vedder noted, “…was the one I enjoyed making the least.”
Pearl Jam | Vs., 1993
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What are your thoughts on this record? Do you have any favorite tracks or memories associated with it? At 30, does it still hold up? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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