If the MTV Unplugged series is the best music show devised for television, then VH1 Storytellers is a close second. But both have become sporadic at best with only Alicia Keys getting the Unplugged treatment recently and Storytellers only produced three shows last year and is airing the first one of this year tonight starring Pearl Jam. It should be interesting the stories the band tells after being in hibernation for about a decade, but at the very least the performances will be solid and hopefully top heavy of earlier albums.
In honor of their performance tonight, it seems apropos that I induct one of their albums into the Scooter Hall of Fame this month and for my money Vs. is the pinnacle of their career. Ten was a great debut, but was bogged down by the grunge sound at times while Vitology had some better songs, but it was also a decent into lunacy with songs like Bugs and the closing “song.” But it is Vs. where everything came together, expanding on the grunge sound, to make the best album of their career.
Vs. starts out with the one-two punch of Go and Animal, two songs that, if they can’t get your blood pumping, nothing will. But the band quickly showed their growth next with Daughter where they were able to slow things down without going into the power ballad cliché. The musicianship really shines through on the song and I love the ambiguity of the lyrics with the booklet saying the line in “violins (ence).” Granted intelligibility of Eddie Vedder doesn’t work because for a long time I thought he was saying “a glorified version of a pelican.”
Dissident features one of the best riffs the band has come up with making you wonder how the duel attack of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready are always absent from best guitarist list, but that may be the answer, that there is two of them. The band takes a complete left turn on W.M.A. with its percussion and bass heavy song about police brutality and still has yet come close to creating another song like it which is somewhat of a same. Rats may not have been the best song on the album, but you got to love the Michael Jackson shoutout at the end.
Near the end of the album are two of my favorite Pearl Jam songs starting with the pulsing Rearviewmirror. I remember after getting my license a few years later and I loved playing this song at night in the summer on a country road with the windows down as each passing headlight telling a different story as the song made a perfect soundtrack. There was just a sense of optimism to the song. On the other hand Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town took a much more subtle approach and after two albums filled with doom and gloom, the song was a refreshing breath of clarity and simplicity and could be my favorite Pearl Jam song not titled Betterman.
The album ends with the haunting Indifferent, yet another chance the band took and the line, “I’ll swallow poison until I grow immune” still sends a chill down my spine to this day. The diversity and the and all the successful risks the band took on Vs. makes it a welcome addition to the SHoF. And yes, I do have one of the copies of the CD without the title on it. (If you remember, the band did have a name for the album when it when to print, so the first shipment went out without Vs. appearing on the album anywhere.)