Vitalogy

Pearl Jam

An interesting departure from Ten and Versus, Pearl Jam's third studio album unpackages the straightfoward rock song approach of the former two albums for a more nuanced collection of aggressive punk songs, heartfelt ballads, and genuine experimentation. On the flipside, Vitalogy features Pearl Jam's most obvious radio friendly hit in Better Man.

Vitalogy represents a change in the Pearl Jam sound

I remember sitting outside of a Newbury Comics in the Fall of 1994, listening to WAAF do a live broadcast, playing all of the tracks from the album and discussing it’s significance.

Vitalogy was written, recorded, and released at a time when the band wanted to get their music out to the masses at a rate of an album every two years. Also, they were in the midst of their Ticketmaster battle.

I’d like to imagine that Pearl Jam was finally facing their fame when creating Vitalogy. Guitar legend Mike McCready was staring down some substance abuse issues. Stone was thinking of leaving. Abbruzzese was unknowingly on his way out of the band. Ament was making art. And Vedder was acquiring a majority stake of control in the band.

You have to wonder if the good songs were an extension of writing for the prior albums, sound checks, and random jam sessions from 1990-1993, and that the others on Vitalogy were the result of a label-mandated album release date. That would be an easy explanation for the inclusion of Pry, To, Bugs, Aye Davanita, and Hey Foxymophandlemama on Vitalogy.

Corduroy from Let’s Play Two

From their baseball stadium shows.

The Vitalogy booklet

The Vitalogy CD booklet was literally a work of art. It contained writings about life, death, health, and well-being.

Per Eric Weisbard of Spin, Bassist Jeff Ament said, “We tried really hard, to make it like a book, kind of tipped it so it opened horizontally, which pissed off record stores: they had to put it in sideways.”

Plus, the Vitalogy booklet added $0.50 per album.

According to bassist Jeff Ament in a Spin interview, “Vitalogy, Ed brought in that book, and we said man that would make a great album cover. We tried really hard, to make it like a book, kind of tipped it so it opened horizontally, which pissed off record stores: they had to put it in sideways. With the packaging, from Vs. on, we were trying to create something a bit more unique. It ended up costing us 50 cents or something, which we were so headstrong at the time on. I don’t know if I’d do that again: give the record company 50 cents of my $1.50! ANTHONY: Eddie had been carrying this book around with him; a self-help book from the ‘20s. What to do to be healthier. He loved this. We thought great: public domain book. No problem. We sent it down to our legal department and it turns out there are two or three different versions of Vitalogy, one of which was copyrighted. Now we had, in this war room, the two different Vitalogy versions printed out, the portions that the band wanted to use versus the two original texts. Lawyers reading over all three versions.”

Rating

I give Vitalogy a 8.510

Nothing will ever be Ten. (Almost) nothing will ever be Vs.

Vitalogy would easily be anyone else’s best album. For PJ, it sits alone in third place … which is really astounding considering it has a few throwaway tracks.

But hey, they survived long enough to make it to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Here is the Betterman video from the induction ceremony.

Vitalogy Track listing

  1. Last Exit
  2. Spin the Black Circle
  3. Not for You
  4. Tremor Christ
  5. Nothingman
  6. Whipping
  7. Pry, To
  8. Corduroy
  9. Bugs
  10. Satan’s Bed
  11. Better Man
  12. Aye Davanita
  13. Immortality
  14. Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me

Vitalogy song notes

Last Exit

Awesome, non-standard rhythm rock song. The opening drum beat falsely suggests this album is a continuation of the tight-knit, succinct Versus, an album that pounds from beginning to end, excepting the song: Elderly Woman Behind A Counter In A Small Town - which is some Tikki Tikki Tembo naming for ya.

If not for Whipping, Last Exit would be the unsung hero of the album. I don’t use the word Kudos, but if I did, which I won’t, the song doesn’t have enough of the fictional non-sense that is kudos.

Also, anyone know what the actual rhythm is? It’s some fraction that would make for an amazing day at the plate, if I recall correctly.

Spin the Black Circle

PJ goes punk for Spin the Black Circle. Stone and Mike get to lose it in the best way possible. Has any song ever described putting on a record with such vibrance before?

The outro devolves into a vortex of notes, sounds, and beats, leaving Vedder breathless and spent.

SPIN! SPIN!

Not for You

Lookin’ at you, Ten lover … If you thought you were getting arena rock anthems like Alive and Evenflow, then this album is Not for You.

Eddie met Uncle Neil (Young) and Pearl Jam records were never the same. Moving in order from Ten to Versus to Vitalogy and including all of the B-Sides, it is here at Track 3 that we hear the beginnings of a change in Pearl Jam’s direction.

They will release more stadium rock songs, like Yield’s Given to Fly, but they will never return to the Ten/Vs. magic.

Is it sad? Sure.

But that’s life, things grow and change over time. Their live shows would remain dominant for years.

Tremor Christ

Unsettling and a bit haunting. I’ve always swayed back and forth on whether or not Tremor Christ was a really good tune, or just some filler that was slightly better than Bugs.

LITTLE SECRETS TREMORS!!!

Nothingman

One of their best slow songs and a tour de force in songwriting. Lyrically superior to so many bands who specialized in slow, emotional tunes. Nothingman really nails the crumbling agony of a breakup. More still, the finality of it all.

“Caught a bolt of lightning, cursed the day he let it go”

Love the start of verse two with the emphasis on, “She once believed!”

Whipping

Vitalogy’s most underrated track. Whipping is relentless in it’s quest for aural dominance.

If you actually listen to the lyrics, I think they beat Ironic (Alanis) to the punch with the point and counterpoint of the in-song actions.

Whipping is the good advice you just didn’t take.

Pry, To

Sure.

Corduroy

Killer intro. Really driving home that C note. Arguably the best song on Vitalogy. Frank’s favorite PJ song.

Corduroy is very cohesive, despite having several parts.

The buildup to “Everything has changed! Absolutely nothings changed!” is charged.

Remolding the intro into the outro is a great choice.

Bugs

Is that an accordion?

Just under 3 minutes of Eddie mumbling about bugs.

Satan’s Bed

Love the whip.

A lot of Pearl Jam songs thematically sound like Acts in a play. Satan’s Bed always felt like the precursor to Do The Evolution. Lyrically, they may even be connected in a way.

Better Man

Staple of PJ live sets, and perhaps the biggest hit the band ever wrote. And no, the awkward rise Last Kiss to the top of the Billboard charts doesn’t count.

A Vedder penned (Bad Radio), straightforward pop rock song with a gentle acoustic intro, Better Man is Pearl Jam’s version of the Fenway Pink Hat phenomenon.

McCready usually lets loose on Better Man live just to keep interested.

Aye Davanita

Played in the warmup at the Fenway Away Shows (2018).

If Santana came from the Pacific Northwest, he might have written Aye Davanita. One part impromptu jam, one part campfire get down, one part grunge jazz club. Aye Davanita sure is … something.

Awoooooh!

You could probably swap Aye Davanita for No Code’s I’m Open and no one would notice.

Immortality

A phenomenal song. Immortality never breaks character, delivering a much needed burst of authenticity after a few out-there tracks.

The acoustic blues solo is always a strong choice. Unplugged is something that PJ does well.

The song never breaks throttles up to 11, which is a good thing. It stays in its lane from start to finish.

Immortality II

Played at Boston 2018 Fenway Night #2. An OG version of the song that is lyrically different and supposedly only played in Boston 20+ years prior.

Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me

What. Is. This!?

Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me is all over the globe.