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Pearl Jam delivers one of the best albums of the 90s

Pearl Jam.
Columbia Records.

By Eric Oliver
Associate Sports Editor

Those of you who were expecting Ten II, forget it. Vs. is not a grunge album, but who really wanted it to be? Vs. (originally titled Five vs. One) answers the critics who said, "OK, grunge meisters, even though Kurt Cobain claimed you rode the Seattle scene on Nirvana's coattails, we made you grunge kings. Now show us what else you got."

Although Vs. is a very different album from Ten, the Pearl Jam mystique hasn't changed. Song titles are only meant to identify, not to grab attention. Thus, one word will suffice ("Once," "Black," "Jeremy"). Clothes are to keep warm in the winter and to prevent being naked in the summer, not to make a fashion statement. This epitomizes the grunge style, actually a misnomer because grunge embraces a lack of style, or a rebellion against style. Therefore, when fashion queen Cindy Crawford proclaimed on MTV's House of Style "Isn't grunge, like, over?" no one was happier than Pearl Jam.

Eddie Vedder is still angry. Angry at greed, homelessness, child abuse censorship. The anger of Ten's "Jeremy" is felt by all of us who cannot fathom how a grown person could molest a child, or harm one's own. During a concert he once remarked, "So many of you came down here in limos. It's really great when you come in a limo and you can look out the window at all the homeless people." No band in recent memory has so closely touched the sources of our generation's frustrations as Pearl Jam, and that's why this album was so greatly anticipated.

Unknowingly, our first introduction to Vs. was at the MTV Video Awards, when Pearl Jam opened up with a fiery rendition of "Animal." Who else but Pearl Jam could play the MTV crowd with a completely unheard song, and follow by bringing the house down with a rejuvenated Neil Young and "Rockin' in the Free World." "Go" was the first single released to radio stations. This song picks up right where Ten left off, with Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament. and friends screaming and thrashing through a plea of "don't go out on me."

Yet so far, "Daughter" has quickly become my favorite song on the album. Who is he singing about? Who is this poor girl he's describing, who is always trying her best, but can never please a domineering mother? Or is it every daughter? With a painful voice and an acoustic background, Eddie captures the futility a daughter feels.

Many songs display Pearl Jam's talents in different musical directions, a risky and respectable way to follow up a top selling debut album. "W.M.A." (white male American) shows off drummer Dave Krusen with an almost tribal rhythm dominating the song. Eddie's haunting vocals cry the pain of a black man who is the victim of a police beating (but it's not Rodney King). "Blood" gets really funky, in a Sly and the Family Stone way, but ends with guitars and drums thrashing and screaming. A Pearl Jam experiment gone awry.

Meanwhile, "Glorified G" (g for gun) is simply a sarcastic look at your average gun totin', God fearin', middle American. "Dissident" tells a partial story of a woman changing her life by turning in a harbored dissident to the authorities. Ament's guitars make this song rock, and it should become a big radio hit, but you'd be better off not trying to follow the lyrics.

"Rats" is a down and dirty light hearted song about the street creatures. Even this song, though, is not without it's political message "They don't grab, don't fight . . . Don't oppress an equal's given rights."

Then there's "Elderly woman behind the counter in a small town." This song is acoustic and sounds almost liked it was inspired by Bob Dylan. Vedder is at his peak, concluding by fading off while repeating the phrase "Hearts and thoughts they fade . . . fade away."

The next song "Leash" comes at you hard and heavy. This song is pure anger unleashed. The target, as was the target in "Jeremy" is parents. Eddie pulls no punches, screaming "drop the leash, drop the leash, get out of my [word omitted] face" until his throat seems to bleed.

After his tirade, he gets reflective with "Indifference." Singing in a near whisper, again with almost Dylan-like lyrics, "I'll swallow poison until I grow immune / I will scream my lungs out 'til it fills this room / How much difference does it make?" This song seems to have the same impact on Vs. as "Release" did on Ten. By ending with "Indifference," Eddie gathers all his frustrations, anger, angst, and energy and turns it inward. The soft reverberating guitar notes accompanying his soliloquy create the mood, and make for a fantastic ending to the album.

I've heard a friend call this the best album of the 90s, perhaps only to be challenged by Pearl Jam's third album, whenever it comes out. With both albums in the top 20, and an upcoming tour, we may be in the midst of another Led Zeppelin.