In a way, Pearl Jam’s second album set the template for all those that followed. When it’s good, it’s great; when it’s bad, it’s really bad.
Overall, “Vs.” is a much leaner, meaner record than its predecessor “Ten.” Gone are the annoying reverb and other thick-as-mud production mistakes. Gone, too, are the classic-rock guitar solos. This album is sharp and straightforward—right down to the clattering drumsticks at the end of “Rearviewmirror.” While Eddie Vedder’s voice is as powerful as ever, he screams instead of sings in several spots—most notably “Blood”—providing a rawer sound than anything on “Ten.”
Unfortunately, “Vs.” also isn’t as consistently good. Certainly it features some of the band’s best-ever songs, strangely most of them softer tracks such as “Daughter,” “Indifference,” and (though I’ve grown weary of it during concerts) “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.” Taut rockers “Go,” “Animal,” and “Blood” embraced the band’s punk influences more openly than ever and set a high bar for the many PJ songs in this genre to follow. The aforementioned “RVM,” meanwhile, is easily among the band’s top achievements in arena-sized songwriting.
Those are the hits—the misses are glaring: “Glorified G” goes nowhere; “Rats” sounds a little silly after all these years; the juvenile lyrics of “Leash” don’t hold up at all, either; and “Dissident” … I just hate that song. Throw in “W.M.A.,” which always sounded more like an extended improv than an official song, and you’re left with quite a mixed bag.
Of all Pearl Jam’s albums, my opinion on “Vs.” has changed the least over the years. I look forward to hearing some of these songs in concert, but the CD’s flaws mean I rarely listen to the actual disc much anymore.
Favorite Track: “Indifference”
Least Favorite Track: “Dissident”