After Pearl Jam achieved success with their first album, Ten, anticipation was very high for the follow-up. The band released their second album, Vs., on October 19, 1993. I was in my first year of college at the time of this album’s release, and it was definitely an album that was being talked about on campus. Vs. ended up setting a record for the most copies of an album sold for first week, and the album held that record for five years. The album also spent five weeks at number one on the Billboard Top 200 album chart.
Vs. opens with the song “Go”; it was released as a single, and peaked at number three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks. It’s a raw and driving number that makes a great opening song for an album. The next song on Vs. is “Animal,” and it was released as the third single from the album. While the actual meaning of the song has never been made clear, it’s obvious the lyrics convey anger being directed at someone. Personally, this is one of my favorite songs on the album.
The next song on Vs. is “Daughter,” which was released as the second single from the album. It’s a more acoustic sounding song compared to the other songs on the album, and it was also the biggest pop hit from Vs. It tells the story of a girl with a learning disability who is abused by her parents. This is another song from the album that I really like. This is followed by “Glorified G,” which is an anti-gun song. It has a very different sound than you would have expected from Pearl Jam at the time, but it still fits with the overall sound of Vs. It’s an enjoyable listen, but gun enthusiasts might be offended by the lyrics. Even though this song was never commercially released as a single, it still managed to reach number thirty-nine on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
Next is “Dissident,” which was released as the fourth single from Vs. According to Eddie Vedder, the song tells the story of a woman who takes in someone being sought by the authorities. She ends up turning him in, and has to live with the guilt of her actions. It’s a very compelling song, both musically and lyrically. It’s another song on the album that I really like. The next song is “W.M.A.,” and it tackles the subject of police racism. I really like the almost ancient tribal sounding drums for this song, and how it ties in to the idea that police beatings due to racism feels primitive. It really adds to the message and atmosphere of the song.
“Blood” is one of the most driving songs on Vs. Lyrically, it’s a song that tackles the media. I really like how Eddie’s vocal sounds so raw and gravelly with the music. Both of these elements really add to the feeling and atmosphere of the song. The next song on the album is “Rearviewmirror,” a song about moving on from a relationship. It’s one of the first songs by the band to feature Eddie Vedder on guitar. This is one of the few songs on Vs. that has a hook, and I think it might have had some success on pop radio at the time if it had been released as a single for that format.
“Rats” has a strong funk influence on it musically, and Eddie uses a deeper, gravelly voice for his vocal delivery. While it’s an interesting sounding song, it’s not one I really go out of my way to listen to on the album very much. This is followed by “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.” It’s an even more acoustic sounding song than “Daughter,” and it tells the story of a woman getting on in years that is stuck in a small town. An old flame comes into her place of employment, and it tells about what happens and her reaction. Even though the song was never released commercially, it still managed to reach number seventeen on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.
The next song on Vs. is “Leash.” It picks the pace of the album back up, and it sounds much more like what a listener would have expected from Pearl Jam at that time. The final song on the album is “Indifference,” and it slows the pace of the album back down again. To me, it has the perfect sound for the closing song of an album. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not one I go out of my way to listen to on the album.
Vs. definitely had a much more raw sound when compared to the previous album, Ten. However, I think these songs really needed to have the raw sound; if these songs had been as polished as the material on Ten, I think they would have lost some of the “realism” that helps the listener connect to the lyrics and themes presented on the album. I would definitely recommend Vs. to anyone who is interested in learning more about the “grunge” and alternative music scene of the 1990s.