Pearl Jam

Epic Records, 1994

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I swear, Pearl Jam has to be one of the spottiest bands in the world. One minute they're impressing me with their all-guns-blazing approach to alternative, the next minute they're getting bogged down in their own pretentiousness or in Eddie Vedder's political views.

Flash back to 1994, and Pearl Jam's third album Vitalogy. This one brought it all together in one humongous mass -- all the power, all the weirdness, all the great moments, all the whacked-out experimentation... even originally wrapped up in a -- gasp! -- vinyl package. One wonders how they pulled it off so well.

After taking a slightly softer edge to their secind album Vs. (and taking the time to record a three-disc live album available as an import only), Vedder and crew turned the amplifiers up again on this one, and unleashed a sonic fury that took up most of the first half of the disc. "Spin The Black Circle" is a lightly-veiled tribute to the all-too-soon forgotten vinyl record, as well as the band's condemnation of the CD as being like "bad acid - not for production or consumption." (Never stopped you from releasing albums on CD, though, eh?) The opening cut, "Last Exit," is a return to the power the band showed off on their first album, while "Whipping" is an orgasmic thrill ride that ends much too soon.

And sure, I know not all the songs on the first part of Vitalogy are balls-out rockers. "Tremor Christ," while not a great choice for the first song released to radio, is a song that grows on the listener. "Nothingman" is a gentle tribute to the dreamer in all of us, and is probably my favorite song on the album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

All of the pre-release publicity, however, may have hurt portions of Vitalogy. I preferred the "Saturday Night Live" version of "Not For You" over the official release (though I have heard it from time to time on alternative radio in Chicago). And, during the time between Vs. and Vitalogy, I remember hearing a live version of "Better Man" on the radio. Part of me likes hearing Dave Abbruzzese's drumming throughout the song, while part of me still cannot fathom why Pearl Jam fails to keep accurate time on the first bridge (where you hear only vocals, guitar and organ). And, only three years after the album's release, I am sick of hearing "Corduroy" on the radio - c'mon, all you in radio land... there's more than one single on this album!!!

Four songs on Vitalogy fall into the "experimental" category -- and three of them are complete wastes. "Pry, To" is one of the wastes, but it's so short that it doesn't get on my nerves that badly. The same can't be said for "Bugs," which has Vedder waxing poetic -- with an accordion background, for crissakes - about bugs. The album's closer, "heyfoxymophandlemama, that's me" is eight minutes of perpetual weirdness a la "Revolution 9" by The Beatles that is best left alone. It also features the debut of Jack Irons on the drums - in my opinion, bad move. Abbruzzese's drumming created a groove that the band could fall into, while Irons is more of a "whack-whack-whack" drummer -- check out Neil Young's "Downtown."

That leaves the one experiment that works -- "Aye Davanita." The song builds itself into a decent enough groove that grabs you before you can do anything about it. In a sense, Vedder's absence from this track does the band a favor - it lets them prove themselves without the omnipresent frontman.

Vitalogy is an album that both invigorates me and confuses me at the same time. It does contain some of the best music that Pearl Jam has created in their brief career, but one wonders what the hell they were smoking when they cut songs like "Bugs" and "Satan's Bed". Are tracks like this bad? Only in one case - I rarely can sit through an entire airing of "mophandlemama" without running for the "Stop" button. The others I can plow through pretty much without too much damage.

This album may also be a challenge for the long-term Pearl Jam fan, mainly because of the experimental changes heard here. In one sense, Vitalogy was a warning sign of things to come; their next full-length effort, No Code, was a whole experiment -- and one that failed.

If there is one Pearl Jam album that is a "must-own," I wouldn't hesitate to nominate Vitalogy as that album -- just approach portions of it with caution.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.