Review

Pearl Jam's 'Vs.' at 20: Classic Track-By-Track Review

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Just days after the release of Pearl Jam's brand new 10th studio album, "Lightning Bolt," comes the 20th anniversary of its key sophomore set, "Vs," which hit record stores 20 years ago on Oct. 19, 1993.
 
Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder once told Spin he had hoped the band's 1991 debut "Ten," would sell 40,000 copies. Instead, that now-classic album went platinum less than a year after its release, hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 after a months-long climb, and easily made Pearl Jam into one of the biggest bands of the era. Pearl Jam and Nirvana, who were falsely portrayed as rivals, seemed to blast from every radio and turn up every time you turned on MTV. The ever brighter spotlight, however, turned out to be a maelstrom that Pearl Jam found increasingly difficult.

In the first half of 1993, it was in this environment that the quintet made the follow-up to "Ten." Pearl Jam convened at Potatohead in Seattle and The Site studio in Nicasio, Calif. with producer Brendan O'Brien, who would come to work with the band on many of its albums over the next 20 years.

Pearl Jam 'Lightning Bolt': The Billboard Cover Story
PJ Lightning Bolt Track-By-Track Review With Band Commentary

After an initial period that produced several tunes including "Rats" and "Go," work ground to a temporary halt. Vedder supposedly took to occasionally sleeping in his truck out in the San Francisco area near the Site to get his mind in the right place for the process. Soon, they were finishing the batch of 12 explosive, emotional, vivid songs wherein Vedder sang stories of family turmoil, abuse, violence and the perils of fame in his muscular baritone against the interlocking twin riffage of Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament's hard groove and then-drummer Dave Abbruzzese's rapid-fire barrage.

PJ was initially going to call it "Five Against One," and for a moment it was self-titled, but ultimately, they chose the simple, powerful title "Vs.," apt for a band in a lot of ways in opposition to the usual machinery of fame. They'd made the then-unfathomable decision to not make any videos, and only gave a few interviews. Still, "Vs." connected immediately upon its October 1993 release, selling an astounding 950,000 copies in its first week according to Nielsen SoundScan and debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. To date, the sophomore set that proved the band could do things its own way -- a tactic that directly helped make its longevity possible -- has sold six million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

"Go"

Pearl Jam 'Lightning Bolt': The Billboard Cover Story
PJ Lightning Bolt Track-By-Track Review With Band Commentary

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