Album review of Pearl Jam’s Vs. and Vitalogy

Pearl Jam Vitalogy reissueBy Gillian G. Gaar

Pearl Jam
“vs.” and “Vitalogy” deluxe edition
Columbia/Legacy
Grade: ****

Pearl Jam has always made the extra effort to be good to its fans. The band was the first to offer a CD for every show on their 2000 U.S. tour (much more is now available via their fan club website), and its album reissues have always come with extras.

Pearl Jam vs. reissuePearl Jam kicked off the band’s 20th anniversary release with the album “Live On Ten Legs”; now come reissues of “vs.” and “Vitalogy.” Each album is available separately, but fans should pick up the three-CD Deluxe Edition, which comes with a complete, previously unreleased, live show.

“vs.” was Pearl Jam’s second album; released in 1993, it racked up astonishing first-week sales of over 950,000 copies. “Dissident” became a concert staple, and then album as a whole captures Pearl Jam at a peak; stronger than the band’s debut, “Ten,” with raging performances on “Animal” and “Leash,” but with a contemplative side also on display, in “Daughter,” and “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town.” There are three bonus tracks — two previously unreleased — including the outtake “Creedy Stomp” as well as “Crazy Mary,” the band’s contribution to the “Sweet Relief” benefit album.

“Vitalogy,” released in 1994, reveals the band’s more experimental side (most obviously heard on the weird spoken-word piece “Bugs”); the band sounds more alternative, less classic rock. “Better Man” is trademark Pearl Jam (strong backing, powerful vocal), but it really gets fun when the group cuts loose, as on “Spin The Black Circle,” a love song to the 45 RPM record. “Not For You” is a slow burner that also shows off singer Eddie Vedder’s vocals to good advantage. A lot of the band’s versatility must be attributed to Vedder’s voice, which can be alternately tender or throat-shredding. The album also has three previously unreleased tracks, including a nice guitar-organ version of “Better Man.”

The live show, an April 12, 1994, date in Boston, is terrific. Good as Pearl Jam is on record, the band really shines as a live act, and this 16-track set draws from all three of the band’s albums (though the members were evidently tired of performing “Alive” and “Jeremy”).

The two albums will also be released on vinyl, and there’s a Collector’s box set for the über-fan, with the albums on CD and vinyl, a cassette featuring performances from Pearl Jam’s first “Self-Pollution Radio” broadcast in 1995, a special book and other memorabilia.

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