I find there to be some similarities between “Vs.” from Pearl Jam and “In Utero” from Nirvana. In both cases, the band was trying to follow up a massively successful album, and in both cases, they strived for a less polished, rawer and more aggressive sound. And in both cases, they had a slightly less consistent collection of songs (my opinion) than their preceding album. Even as such, “Vs.” was still a very successful album for Pearl Jam, with a very limited marketing campaign, and ultimately it was rated as the #5 grunge rock album of all time by loudwire.com.
Unlike Nirvana, the songwriting and musical creation was a much more collaborative process with Pearl Jam. Although all of the lyrics and vocals come back to Eddie Vedder, all five members of the band contributed songs for this record. They struggled with locations and process while making this record, and two of their better and well-recognized songs ultimately contradicted their ambitions for a rougher edge.
The album opens with “Go”, which was the first single released, and was written by new drummer Dave Abbruzzese. It is a pretty intense rocker, but like a lot of songs on this record and their subsequent catalog, it lacks much direction or hook. I like “Animal” better as a second dose of power, and “Daughter”, one of the two primarily acoustic tracks, is a classic Eddie Vedder story about a disabled girl and her lack of acceptance from her own family.
“Glorified G” is another song that doesn’t really go anywhere, but “Dissident” is probably my favorite song on the album, and also the best display of the star power of Eddie Vedder, showcasing his depth of range and style. I don’t find many of the other songs to be that compelling, even as I appreciate the singing of Vedder and his uniquely deep tone. “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” is an exception, and I love the delivery of his softer, soulful approach here. Like “Daughter”, this is a Vedder story to be told, this time highlighting the life of a person we all know, the senior citizen who has led a humble and quiet life in the same town for all of their years.
From this point on, the hits and big records would not flow as frequently for Pearl Jam, but unlike their peers, they soldier on today in various forms, and Eddie Vedder stands alone as the sole survivor from a generation of highly impactful and gifted vocalists in this genre.