Pearl Jam - Vitalogy
Epic Records
Hard Rock
14 songs (55'30")
Release year: 1994
Pearl Jam, Epic Records
Reviewed by Adam
Archive review
I would have no way of knowing, but large-scale success appears to be very difficult to endure. You could spend the entire day listing those in the music industry alone who succumbed to the immense pressure placed on them by their success. Pearl Jam has always been determined not to be added to those ranks. They shunned fame as much as they were able after their debut, Ten, rocketed them into superstardom. They refused to do videos despite label pressure, boycotted Ticketmaster, even taking their crusade so far as to cancel their 1994 summer tour in protest. Released that same year, their third full length, Vitalogy, continues the band’s personal quest to remain as obscure and normal as a band of their stature can be.

The recording of Vitalogy was a tumultuous time for the band. According to producer Brendan O’Brien, who was on his third album with Pearl Jam, there was “some imploding going on”. Relationships among the group were deteriorating, culminating in the firing of drummer Dave Abbruzzese before recording was complete. It has been speculated that this was, in part, due to his disagreement with the Ticketmaster boycott. The personal pain and turmoil the members were enduring is reflected in the songwriting and overall feel of the album. It has a desperate atmosphere, and Stone Gossard stated previously that many of the songs were written 20 minutes prior to recording. This is remarkable considering the quality of material, which is generally considered to be among the band’s best. Last Exit feels very similar to material from the previous two albums, with an even rocking pace and Eddie Vedder’s soaring and aggressive vocals. In short, a fantastic choice for an opening track. Speaking of Vedder, Vitalogy is the first album where he played guitar and joined in on this portion of the songwriting. His punkish contributions are more than notable on Spin the Black Circle, the band’s ode to vinyl.

The strain the band was under produced some curious and forgettable moments, such as the strange tracks Pry, To and Bugs. The former contains Vedder repeatedly spelling out privacy, which is apparently his favorite word. On the latter, he plays an accordion he picked up at a thrift shop to accompany some strange lyrics (and that’s being polite). However, this strain also contributed to some of the more powerful songs in the Pearl Jam catalogue, specifically the sorrowful ballad Nothingman. The simple subdued guitar riff sets the tone for the main course, Vedder’s emotional and captivating vocals. Personally, I consider this song his best vocal performance, on any album. The almost poppy Better Man, by far the happiest song on the album, and the straightforward rocker Corduroy remain crowd favorites to this day, but I much prefer the depressing tone of tracks like the aforementioned Nothingman and Immortality. Though Immortality ramps up at times, it is still a somber ballad at its core. This, to me, was where Pearl Jam showed their diversity as songwriters. I already knew they could churn out catchy rocking tracks, but these songs in particular showed me that they were the complete package, able to channel their emotions into wistful and drifting songs as well.

Vitalogy is by no means perfect, but for all its faults, it remains one of my favorite albums by Pearl Jam. In addition to the strange inclusions listed previously, the lyricless funk of Aye Davanita and the peculiar (both in title and otherwise) Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me deserve mention in the same category. The second was the first track to include Abbruzzese’s replacement Jack Irons, formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Still, when Vitalogy is good, it is VERY good. From stellar rocking tracks like Last Exit and Whipping, to more subdued affairs like Nothingman and Immortality, this album is as close of a complete representation of self as Pearl Jam has released to date.
Killing Songs :
Nothingman, Immortality, Last Exit
Adam quoted 89 / 100
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Pearl Jam that we have reviewed:
Pearl Jam - Backspacer reviewed by Goat and quoted 82 / 100
Pearl Jam - Live On Two Legs reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam reviewed by Adam and quoted 88 / 100
Pearl Jam - Yield reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Pearl Jam - Vs reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
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