Following on from the massive success of 1991’s Ten, Vs. finds Pearl Jam in a darker mood. Pearl Jam refused to produce music videos for the album, and the sheep on the cover is symbolic of their perception of themselves as prisoners. The production from Brendan O’Brien suits the band much better, giving them a rawer edge than the stadium rock of Ten. New drummer Dave Abbruzzese also gives the band a busier and heavier sound.
Despite the improved sound, the songs are often inconsequential, partly because they’re adolescent – Pearl Jam are trying to connect with teenagers here, not with grownups. Songs like ‘Leash’, ‘Animal’ and ‘Go’ have catchy riffs and intense performances, but the simple, repetitive lyrics make it difficult to take them seriously. ‘Rearviewmirror’ is more memorable with its catchy riff, while ‘Dissident’ stands out with its open and soaring melody. ‘Dissident’ also showcases Vedder as a storyteller, as do the acoustic songs ‘Daughter’ and ‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town’, and they’re the most effective pieces here.
Vs. is a step down in quality for Pearl Jam, but the better production and growing diversity do open up possibilities for their career.