By early 1993 Pearl jam were still riding a huge tidal wave of success after a relentless touring schedule in support of their debut album ‘Ten’ in 1991. Time had come for Pearl Jam to record a follow up album to match, if not, surpass ‘Ten’ and challenge themselves as a collective of musicians and young men.
History has shown that many rock bands rise and fall after a debut album, so what would PJ produce ? Pearl Jam’s 2nd album entitled VS was released on October 19th 1993. It was rawer and more aggressive than the band’s debut album and fans were in for a real treat.
A whopping 1.3 million records were sold in the first ten days of its release in late 1993. PJ, though, weren’t interested in commercial success, they just loved to play music. This was reflected by P.J’s decision to scale back its commercial efforts for VS by declining to create music videos when everyone was expected to do so.
The album was recorded one song at a time and set up as if they were playing a live gig. Throughout the session Eddie Vedder never felt at home in the studio. Jeff Ament pointed out that the studio that they were recording in was so nice that it made Vedder feel uncomfortable. Unable to concentrate, he resorted to sleeping in his car and the studio sauna to find his mojo.
Musical stand outs are Go, Animal and Rats. There is a very primal and experimental feel to the songs with elements of funk throughout. Gossard excels with his clipped, efficient rhythms and McCready adds a truly livewire lead to many of the songs. Pearl Jam’s drummer Dave Abbruzzese almost steals the show with his maniacal tribal beat. It must be said that it isn’t surprising at all then, that he occasionally suffers from carpel-tunnel syndrome, which cause his wrists to ache and throb.
Not everything is fast and furious, there are also beautiful elements of storytelling and ballads. Daughter gives way to a story about a child with a learning disability who is abused by her parents. Their frustrations give way to anger which builds and subsides with the mood of the song. While, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter of a Small Town tells the story of an ageing protagonist who has been stuck in a small town her whole life.
The best song on the album would have to be Rearviewmirror. It manages to capture the essence of the whole album. Right from the beginning of the plucky guitar rift the song twists and boils over with energy as Vedder describes being trapped, somewhat like in that ‘nice’ studio he seemed to loathe.
On a final note, the album was originally titled ‘Five Against One’, as featured in the lyrics of Animal but was later changed to ‘VS’ with a black and white photograph taken by Jeff Ament of a sheep from a Montana farm.