Dear Pearl Jam:
I’ve heard you’re unhappy with me. It seems something has come between us, and it’s time to get things out in the open-air our dirty flannel, so to speak. And what better time than with the release of your second album, Vs. (Epic Associated)?
I suppose it all started two years ago. Everyone was buzzing about you, in part because a couple of the guys in the band used to be in a few early and influential Seattle bands. So my interest was piqued too. However, I was disappointed by Ten, your first record. It huffed and puffed too much—all grunge style, not enough substance. And Eddie Vedder (or can I just call you Eddie?), you came off as the most tightly wound pop star since Michael Bolton. Besides, my good friend Michele told me you were considered a major babe, and you know how comments like that can affect other men.
So I gave Ten a mixed send-off in these pages—a B-, to be precise. And what happened? You printed an excerpt from my review (a snotty comment about how you ”flail about in search of a groove and a song”) on the back of a Pearl Jam T-shirt, along with other critics’ unkind comments. Mind you, it showed you have a sense of humor, and overall I was flattered, though a little hurt that you never sent me one.
Well, anyway…that seemed to be the end of it. But no. I caught you at the kickoff show of Lollapalooza ‘92, and, frankly, you sounded like the Big Muddy. I wrote about that too. Next thing I knew, your publicist hated me, accusing me of disliking you because you sold 5 million copies of Ten.
Can’t we all just get along?
In the interest of a more harmonious relationship, then, allow me to open a dialogue. I’ve listened to Vs. a number of times, and even I will admit it sounds like a musical smorgasbord compared with the meat-and-potatoes Ten. It starts with ”Go,” which tries very, very hard to be punky, discordant, and noncommercial. Sure, you’ve sprinkled a few chest-thumpers throughout, much like the ones that fueled Ten. But you also toss in an ambiguous antiviolence tract, ”W.M.A.,” with downright tribal rhythms, plus a few ballads that sound as if they were recorded for an Unplugged show that never aired. Vs. is not a carbon copy of Ten; for that alone, you get points.
Some of your experiments work, too. ”Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” one of the folkie-acoustic numbers, has an unexpected melodic delicacy, and as the title character, Eddie delivers lines such as ”Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away” with more depth than I expected. Maybe you should book him for more Bob Dylan tribute concerts.
Then there is ”Rearviewmirror,” which hit me where it counts—perhaps because it is both sad and angry, or maybe because the first time I heard it I was feeling disconsolate myself as I sat on a bus careening along a dark, semideserted highway. For once, those rippling guitar chords wrap themselves around a real hook, and Eddie’s clenched delivery is perfect for a song about the pain of leaving behind a hopeless relationship and moving on. And how did you know I’m a sucker for guitar solos that burst out of the murk at the end of a song, just like on those old Neil Young and Crazy Horse records?