Vs.I discovered Pearl Jam not too long after getting into Nirvana in a big way.  Must have been mid 1994 or so.  Certainly before the release of Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York.  1994?  Yeah, up until that point I actually didn’t listen to that much music.  Well, certainly not a wide range of music.  I’d been listening to Guns N’ Roses (a lot), R.E.M., Queen, INXS and a few other bits and bobs – Rolling Stones, Iron Maiden (Fear of the Dark and Powerslave) and the Last Action Hero and The Crow soundtracks.  There were also a handful of other tapes featuring tracks I’d picked up from free Kerrang! tapes and Radio 1’s rock show (with the likes of Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, etc), as well as a bunch of stuff of my dad’s that appealed to me (a couple of Beatles compilations (the blue and red best of LPs), Rod Stewart, Elvis and Frank Sinatra).  It’s actually pretty odd thinking about it, but 1994 was the year of my great musical awakening; music grabbed a hold of me in a way I couldn’t ever comprehend.

Anyway, after Nirvana I started exploring other alternative rock bands, but Pearl Jam was the next band I grasped onto in a big way.  I heard Ten and it blew me away.  Caught up in the enthusiasm I called my friend and proclaimed that it was better than Nevermind.  “You really need to hear this”, I said.  It was a completely different album to Nevermind, of course – Pearl Jam were a completely different band; but at the time it made sense.  Vs. sealed the deal, though.  They took the hooks of Ten and turned them upside down.  There was more grit, more urgency, and a bit more soul.  Soon enough my friend and I were aboard the Pearl Jam bus and seeking a copy of Vitalogy.  Of course, Pearl Jam were soon off the map and my candle for them started to fade as I was discovering a range of other bands while awaiting their long anticipated next album.  By the time No Code dropped I wasn’t as interested.  I was already hooked on other sounds.

Although I did drift back to them when Yield was on its way, I found myself falling out of love with the band after Riot Act.  I have the three albums they released since (Pearl Jam, Backspacer and Lightning Bolt), but I’ve just never found them engaging enough to have an opinion on them.  I really don’t know what it was with those albums, but the fact the music just didn’t resonate with me anymore would be the likely culprit.  I just can’t relate to any of it.  However, I do still find myself returning to that four album run of Vs., Vitalogy, No Code and Yield; I still have a lot of time for those.
gatefoldQuite possibly my favourite of the bunch is Vs.  It’s the one I listen to most often.  Each time I still feel like it’s hitting that same musical nerve it did the first time I heard it.  I picked up a copy about a year ago on eBay for a couple of pence over £16.  Throw in the postage and it was just over £20.  Ouch.  Part of me was already regretting the purchase given I had it on CD, but the other part – the part that kept up the bidding – was already looking forward to it arriving.  To hear that intro.  Like an orchestra warming up.

The album itself still sounds vibrant and fresh.  Lyrically it’s dark and EdVed has never sounded better – his phrasing and timing is spot on.  He can often be heard screaming himself hoarse (like when he sings “Spin me round, roll me over. Fucking circus. Stab it down. One way needle. Pulled so slowly” before tearing it up when he screams “it’s my blood”) while the acoustic numbers are well suited to his baritone ramblings (like on the pretty wonderful Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town).  The band sound impulsive, and the sparring of McCready and Gossard’s guitars often sound spontaneous.

Like I say, the shadows of Ten remain (Dissident and Indifference), but there’s a grit and an appetite to leave the stadium rock of that album behind them.  EdVed sounds like he’s trying to exorcise demons or at least make sense of where he’s found himself.  His voice is filled with urgency, passion and a little bit of vitriol.  Although there’s a common thread – one of isolation and distance – Vedder references a number of frustrations that are both social and political.  From abuse (Daughter and Rearviewmirror) and drug addiction (Blood) to taking on gun control (Glorified G) and police violence (W.M.A).

My favourite moments have never changed – the opening warm up before the rush of Go, the lifting broodishness of Glorified G, Rats (Ament and Abbruzzese providing a funky beat, while Gossard and McCready provide some pummeling guitars as Vedder tosses out lines that suggest he’s not at all pleased with the human race) and when Vedder sings “I’ll swallow poison until I grow immune. I will scream my lungs out till it fills this room” during Indifference.

As I look at the album and listen to Vedder’s thoughts against a setting of sparring guitars, gloomy bass runs, tribal drum patterns and moody splashes of lead, it reminds me what I love about Pearl Jam.  In many ways, their best albums have a lot of the same hallmarks – unfinished ideas, a feeling of spontaneity, and an intensity that their later work just lacks.  I appreciate that they’re getting older, but so too are The Afghan Whigs, Queens of the Stone Age, Masters of Reality, and Mark Lanegan.  Pearl Jam are like the Foo Fighters.  Sure, they’re carrying a torch, but they’re playing it safe.  Just like U2 or the Boss; they have an incredible catalogue, but they’re really struggling to stay relevant.  They don’t need a hit album – they need to sound like they are challenging themselves and their audience.

Still, Vs. is a brilliant album.  I wouldn’t regret a statement like “this is better than Nevermind” if I’d said it about this one.  No, sir.
spookThis copy was pressed in Holland.  A nice gatefold sleeve and complete with the original inner.  Vs. isn’t printed anywhere on the cover or spine.  There’s some surface noise in the quiet passages and a little pop or two, but otherwise it sounds great.  All things considered, the £20+ was a good deal.

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47 thoughts on ““Got a gun … ‘fact I got two. That’s okay man, ’cause I love God”: Pearl Jam – Vs. (1993)

  1. This is a great post and almost makes me want to follow your passion down to Pearl Jam Boulevard – almost – I like them but I don’t like like them – never caught the bug.

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    1. Thanks, Wayne. I would recommend the four album run I mention here to anyone, but I certainly appreciate the reluctance to go listening to them. Still, never too late to catch the bug … I’ve had it on and off for a fair few years now!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it is this: so many bands each with a loyal following that gets them and so little time – no way can I explain my love of Lyle Lovett for example —-I can listen to his records all the way through and enjoy every moment – why that works for me and not for others fascinates me to no end.

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      2. That needs no explaining – I’m fond of Lyle Lovett and His Large Band and not so long ago picked it out of the record collection when looking for something to play!

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  2. I never really got the bug either, although I was lucky enough to catch them on their first UK tour (possibly just before 10 came out? Alive was certainly in the charts at the time). My dad’s a really big fan and has been to see them a whole host of times, but apart from the odd spark (Better Man, Yellow Ledbetter, Spin The Black Circle and the Benaroya Hall album) they’ve never really connected with me.

    This is their best LP though, it has the highest hit rate for me (and the best cover) and you’re right on the money ‘Elderly Woman …’ is masterful.

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    1. Jings! That would have been 1990? I’ve heard some of the boots from back then (had them on tape) and they sounded really pretty brilliant.

      I do get the disconnect, though. I’ve been connected and disconnected to them time and time again. As I commented to Wayne there, those four albums I mention are definitely worth some further exploring. Especially if you dig stuff like Spin the Black Circle and Better Man.

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      1. They played Joy Division’s ‘Interzone’ & Who ‘Baba O’Reilly’ AND I got to touch Eddie Vedder when he ran around the balcony at St Georges Hall, Bradford. That’s all my Pearl Jam stories, right there.

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      2. Argh! What luck! Perhaps there’s some way to undo this voodoo … like chanting his and your name backwards three times while looking in the mirror.

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  3. You are so fortunate to have that one on LP. Nice one! This is indeed a fantastic record. I should state off the top though that I am a looooong-time fan of these guys, and I love all the records. Not out of blind following of their output, but because I’ve been at it so long with them that each new release is cause for excitement and the music just makes sense to me at the time of release too. I’ve loved the latest records too. I would say uncategorically they’ve never released a bad record, but perhaps that’s far too sweeping a statement for most.

    But vs., hells yes. What an album! Oh my goodness. You nailed it with this: “They took the hooks of Ten and turned them upside down. There was more grit, more urgency, and a bit more soul. ” I first heard this album when it came out, in my first year of university, in residence. A perfect place to hear it – an all-guys floor listening to grunge in 1994…

    Is anything they did better than Nevermind? I’m not certain it’s a fair comparison, I always think of them as two different bands who could never have made a record that sounds like each other. And I never thought Nevermind was Nirvana’s best record anyway. I dunno, Pearl Jam is Pearl Jam and to me it’s all great. Vs. is genius.

    If you ever get the chance to see them live, Go! Do not hesitate, just buy tickets! I saw them in 1998, for Yield, and it was one helluva show. There’s a real sense of community at their shows.

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    1. I think this is better than Nevermind. As is Vitalogy. And possibly No Code and Yield. But that’s more of a “I enjoy these more”. And have done consistently. But, yeah, they are different bands and very different musically.

      I saw them during the Binaural tour – June 3rd 2000. I mind the date so well cause it was released as part of that whole official bootleg thing. I would likely see them again, but they don’t visit Scotland and I’m not inclined to travel to see them.

      As for Nirvana, my favourite in Bleach. Start to finish and I listen to it more often. Nevermind was the first I heard, so everything had to be judged on the strength of that one!

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      1. Yeah it is. I can say that for a few Pearl Jam albums actually. Riot Act for sure. The only ones I know for sure I have played recently, besides their newest, are 10 and Vitalogy.

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      2. Vitalogy gets a lot of listening time over here, too. That’s a real great album and another that I hope to nab on vinyl at some point. Ten, though, I haven’t heard that in a very long time – I no longer even own a copy (CD or digital).

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      3. It’s so underrated. I was initially hooked in by the excellent ballads. But it’s impossible to ignore the rockers like Not For You!

        I have the Ten super deluxe. If you buy it again, get some kind of deluxe.

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      4. The ballads on there are particularly brilliant. I completely agree. The rockers, though, some of them (Not For You and Tremor Christ) are some of Pearl Jam’s best.

        The super deluxe Ten: that includes the Brendan O’Brien remix?

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      5. r.e. Mike’s Super Deluxe – I got the MTV Unplugged in mine and I just bought the legacy version. Mine had the album, the remix and the DVD, 3 discs in a thick digipak.

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  4. I first got this on CD for a friend for her birthday when it first came out. But, I couldn’t help myself – I opened it and listened to it beforehand (had to try it out!). I then had to buy ANOTHER copy for my friend. She didn’t take to it as much as I did. I on the other hand, listened to it a lot more than Ten. I haven’t listened to any Pearl Jam this in ages!

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    1. Interesting point there. I think Yield is likely the most consistent of the bunch, actually. A very fine album for sure – great songs and it flows pretty splendidly, so I couldn’t disagree with that.

      It keeps coming up in these conversations, but it’s that connection we have to albums and songs, isn’t it? The energy in Vs. always grabs me and gives me a shake. It just takes over … hits me like a flash flood.

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  5. Coming late to this party, but I brought some chips and dip. Is that cool?

    Pearl Jam. I think you and I have very much the same trajectory with them, though ‘Ten’ was the album for me as it hit my senior year in high school and I was the first fella on the block to crank it in my car stereo(a 1977 candy apple red Chevy Nova…I miss that car.) Anyways, Ten holds a lot of nostalgia for me, but ‘Vs’ was definitely the record where they came into their own. All those punk and Neil Young influences came out wonderfully. I can remember seeing Pearl Jam at the MTV Video Music Awards playing “Jeremy” and Vedder was drunk and swigging from a wine bottle. I kept thinking he was going to crash and burn. Fortunately he didn’t and instead made one of most visceral albums of their career.

    Nirvana was a one album band for me. ‘Nevermind’ was like an explosion, or Haley’s Comet. It was white hot and wonderful, then it was gone. Cobain was talented as a songwriter, but I think he was destined to burn out quickly. It’s like he wasn’t made for this place. I don’t know.

    I don’t revisit either band anymore. It’s like loving a drink until you get sick on it once and then you can’t touch the stuff anymore. I will occasionally have the urge to hear “On A Plain” or “Pennyroyal Tea”

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  6. Coming late to this party, but I brought some chips and dip. Is that cool?

    Pearl Jam. I think you and I have very much the same trajectory with them, though ‘Ten’ was the album for me as it hit my senior year in high school and I was the first fella on the block to crank it in my car stereo(a 1977 candy apple red Chevy Nova…I miss that car.) Anyways, Ten holds a lot of nostalgia for me, but ‘Vs’ was definitely the record where they came into their own. All those punk and Neil Young influences came out wonderfully. I can remember seeing Pearl Jam at the MTV Video Music Awards playing “Jeremy” and Vedder was drunk and swigging from a wine bottle. I kept thinking he was going to crash and burn. Fortunately he didn’t and instead made one of most visceral albums of their career.

    Nirvana was a one album band for me. ‘Nevermind’ was like an explosion, or Haley’s Comet. It was white hot and wonderful, then it was gone. Cobain was talented as a songwriter, but I think he was destined to burn out quickly. It’s like he wasn’t made for this place. I don’t know.

    I don’t revisit either band anymore. It’s like loving a drink until you get sick on it once and then you can’t touch the stuff anymore. I will occasionally have the urge to hear “On A Plain” or “Pennyroyal Tea”, but that’s about it. But having read this wonderful post, I think I might have to listen to ‘Vs’ tomorrow morning at work.

    ‘Yield’ was the last Pearl Jam record I really loved. And it was also the tour I saw them on. United Center in Chicago with Frank Black and the Catholics. Great show despite having nosebleed seats behind the stage.

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    1. Never too late to come to a party, sir. especially when you have chips and dips!

      “All those punk and Neil Young influences came out wonderfully” – couldn’t agree more. That album is definitely the blueprint for pretty much everything that came after it (though the result on some is more successful than on others). I guess Vedder avoided the crash and burn by disappearing the way he did. Trying to avoid the mainstream and all. Perhaps? which reminds me, I remember watching the PJ20 documentary and feeling shortchanged by it cause they hinted at the power struggle and the conflict between Vedder and the rest over what they were (Stone talks about Vedder “travelling alone without the band” and “wanting to be like Fugazi and we weren’t”), but never actually explored it. Maybe that’s the problem with having a fan make the documentary. But anyway, Vs. is a brilliant statement … and probably their most visceral album, I think. Only Vitalogy would rival it – though I find that it sounds a little more intentional in it’s approach.

      Nirvana: I get what you’re saying there. I have periods where I don’t listen to them and I try to remember what drew me to them. Then I remember: it was an age and stage thing. Still, I do really like Bleach and enjoy that a whole lot more than the others now. That said, I also have a bunch of songs that I like to revisit.

      Anyhoo, I’m glad that you’ve been inspired to give Vs. or Yield a listen. Let me know how that works for you, sir!

      (and Yield-era Pearl Jam and Frank Black sounds like a good gig)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You know, I really need to go back to ‘Bleach’. I do remember liking it a lot back in the day, but there seemed to be some messiness to certain tracks that turned me off back then. I think now I’d probably appreciate that messiness even more.

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      2. I’d certainly encourage revisiting that one. There’s no weight around it and as a result it’s just a really pretty great rock album. Or punk album. Or grunge. Or whatever you want to call that whole thing.

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  7. I really can’t stand Pearl Jam but I do know what you mean about relating music to time periods in your life. Music always is heavily memory based for me.

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    1. Yes, music is, more often than not, like that for me too. There’s a whole bunch of albums that I just can’t let go because I link them to a specific event or suchlike. Even when I don’t listen to them often.

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