26 October 2013

Pearl Jam - Vitalogy

So here we are at the 500th posting - never thought it would get here so fast, yet here we are.  Sometimes pages pick a special artist or a monumental album which to look into as some sort of statement.  Not us, apart from me telling the others that the 500th blog was mine, I've gone for something that is not looked upon too fondly by some areas of the music press when it was released.  Back in 1994, Pearl Jam was laying their collective claim for being one of the biggest rock bands in the world.  Released about 5 months after the death of Grunge figurehead Kurt Cobain this album is wrongly seen as some sort of tribute to the fallen singer, when the fact remains that 'Vitalogy' was a reaction against grunge itself and what the band had made from their success with their previous albums 'Ten' & 'Vs'.  It was also an album formed by conflict within the band with singer Eddie Vedder taking the final decisions for the first time, drummer Dave Abbruzzese was sacked and guitarist Stone Gossard thought about quitting.  Even producer Brendan O'Brien said there was some imploding going on.  So what sort of record came from this conflict?

Starting with "Last Exit" this record is probably the most diverse that the band have released.  There is a fire from the off with the opening followed by the insane "Spin The Black Circle" which sounds more like a pray to an elder deity rather than a ode to the joy of listening to a song on vinyl.  After this comes the brooding and aggressive "Not For You" which is just aggressive without ever needing to hit the accelerator. You can feel the tension coming out more with "Tremor Christ" and its hypnotic playing.  Then the band turn left with the heart breaking ballad "Nothing Man" about someone who is trapped in the shell of a relationship after the other has left. To this day it can still bring a tear to my eye.

Next is the punky "Whipping" which is just standard album fodder and could have been on either of their earlier releases if the truth be told; it is ok, but nothing very special which at the time was out of place for the band.  They were going around with the golden touch at that moment.  Then comes the short instrumental-ish "Pry. To" which is just a small jamming track placed in the middle to break up side one form side two (for the CD or download generation, records used to have sides on tape and vinyl) - again a little throw away.  Then come the towering "Corduroy" which bring the album back on track, going on about how the singer is a mess (in my mind, the band sounds like it was).

Then it goes a little strange with the Tom Waits-esque "Bugs".  For years I could not figure out if I love this, hated it or both.  It is still that way to this day, but my deity the song is still interesting.  "Satan's Bed" follows with its S&M undertones, but is probably a barbed-song about what the band thought about the music industry.  "Better Man" (the natural companion to "Nothing Man") is the next song which is shown from the side of a lady in a loveless marriage who wants to leave but still comes back to what she knows.  Tragic and glorious in one swift motion. Come up next is another break in the album with "Aya Davanita" which works better than "Pry. To" as a short break, it is short and to the point, it is also very hypnotic as well and is sometimes stuck in my head for day.  Then comes the album's last official track in "Immortality" which is your standard Pearl Jam that makes the heart soar and is crushingly beautiful.  Until recently I did not know it was released as a single (it was only released in the USA, Canada and New Zealand), which is not about the death of Kurt Cobain.  In fact the band has gone on the record to confirm that the majority of the work here was finished before his death.  What does not need disputing is the fact it is a brilliant song and closed the original release so well, but newer releases now have "Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me" or "Stupid Mop" as the end track.  This track is just a noise piece which I personally love, it just goes off in a totally different direction which pissed off a lot of people and I think the band needed to do this, just to show they were in control and would not do 'Ten' or 'Vs' part 2.

For a lot of people this is where Pearl Jam stopped being relevant, for me it is where they became more relevant.  It is a flawed record, but it is still my favourite record by the band to this day.  The packaging is stunning, the mood is darker than a winter's night in the Artic circle and it is not welcoming in the slightest.  It was born in conflict and is spiky to the end.  Maybe that is why I love it and find it so fascinating; the internal war is there for all to see, and an internal fight has never sounded so beautiful.  The album has aged gracefully and is well worth revisiting, not quite perfect; but that is what makes it more special.

9.5 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost.......

You can purchase one of the versions of the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Pearl Jam website here

You can listen to the album here on Spotify

The band was having a ban on videos at the time, but I'm sure YouTube has live performance of their work at the time up there.

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