Pearl Jam‘s Vs. might be my number two. But there’s an argument to be made that it’s the ’90s greatest sophomore album.
I’m writing this as I reflect on the album’s 30th anniversary. Which is up for debate in an of itself. If you go by the Vs. Wikipedia page, the album was released on October 5, 1993. But if you go by the album’s page on Pearl Jam’s official website, it tells you that Vs. had its proper release on October 19, 1993, with an early vinyl release on October 12. I’m going with the 19th, as that’s my dad’s birthday.
I actually tackled this topic (sort of) earlier this year with this 12-Inch Poll: What’s the Greatest Rock Album from 1993? That year was absolutely stacked with great alternative rock. As of now, Vs. is second in the Poll to Siamese Dream from the Smashing Pumpkins. Which pleases me, as that’s my pick. I wrote about my love for that one on its 30th anniversary earlier this year. Read that here.
Is Pearl Jam ‘Vs.’ the ’90s Greatest Sophomore Album?
Refocusing solely on sophomore releases, we’re putting Vs. up against the aforementioned Siamese Dream. Nirvana‘s In Utero technically isn’t in the conversation; that turned 30 this year as well, but it’s their third album. What are the other heavy-hitters? Alice In Chains Dirt? Stone Temple Pilots Purple? There are likely a few more, but that’s already a murderer’s row of ’90s sophomore releases.
So how does Vs. stack up? Let’s look at it in context. At the time, Pearl Jam were arguably the biggest rock band in the world next to Nirvana. And while In Utero was perhaps the most highly-anticipated release of the ’93s, Nirvana was so big that no matter what they did on that album, it was going to sell. You could say the same for Pearl Jam, but they had a bit more to prove.
The band had toured their asses off behind Ten, and seen their popularity soar. So the pressure was on to deliver a strong follow-up. The members and producer Brendan O’Brien took a one-at-a-time approach with the songs to give Eddie Vedder the time he needed for his lyrical and vocal approach. The process was still slow. Vedder was uncomfortable. The tension was palpable.
But instead of cracking under pressure, that tension became a crucible. And from the crucible emerged a sophomore album that was as strong as–if not stronger–than the debut. And shouldn’t that be the primary criteria for judging a follow up? The numbers bear that out: the album sold 50,000 shy of 1,000,000 copies in the first five days of release. And that record stood for a half-decade.
The music bears it out as well. I’ve hand-picked a handful of standout tracks that I believe to be examples of excellence below. Check them out, then find some time in the coming days to revisit the album if you haven’t in awhile. I mean, hey, it’s no Siamese Dream. But it’s still a damn fine ’90s rock follow-up album. (Your sarcasm detector should be going off right about now.)