Top critical review
10 people found this helpful
on 17 February 2001
Vitalogy is a stark and at times troubled represention of a band going through a particuarly dark patch and questioning the notion of success and fame, and becoming increasingly disillusioned with the situation they found themselves in. Pearl Jam tried their best to alienate their listeners, with results that were simply too successfull. It's always unpleasant to see a band take their fans for granted in this manner, and Pearl Jam are no different. After listening through this album, all but the most tolerant of listeners can't help but feel ground down by often pretensious barrage of sonic indulgence. For example, dialogue from a 70's psychology video about schizophrenia is used in the over long final track 'Hey foxymophandlemama that's me', and Eddie Vedder can be heard releasing his supposedly troubled soul on an accordion via 'bugs', the insects of the title supposedly being a metaphor for the media and critics. Do you get the idea?
There aren't many songs on this album that don't attempt to deal with the 'pain and torment' involved with fame and fortune. 'Corduroy' is the material used in the famed jacket that Eddie bought from the salvation army before Pearl Jam were famous for a few dollars, and then, at the height of the 'Grunge' explosion, discovered it in a high street store at a four-figure price. 'Not for you' is Eddie lamenting his fans for interpreting his lyrics as their own, and viewing him as some kind of god. It contains the lyric- "small my table/sits just two/gets so crowded/I can't make room/where did they come from?/Stormed my room/and you dare say it belongs to you." This comes across as Eddie simply being ungrateful and hateful towards his bands loyal fanbase. 'Satans bed' is much the same, with Eddie simply putting too much of his own life and experiences into a song to the extent of alienating the rest of us.
However, this isn't entirely true. Pearl Jam direct their anger outwards in 'Whipping', an anthem for the pro choice movement, and take on the topic of death in the admittedly superb and mournful 'Immortality' and the not-so-superb 'Last Exit'. 'Aye Davanita' is Pearl Jam yet again being self indulgent, so it doesn't count. 'Nothingman' is another gem, but in the liner notes we are reminded of the mood of this album with a tasteful picture of a car crash. 'Betterman' almost seems ironic, sitting so awkwardly with the rest of the songs it seems unreal, sounding as it does like bad U2 crossed with lyrics from a teeny-bopping band.
Another problem with this album is the way in which the band have their musical talents wasted. Not one guitar solo appears on this album, which is a terrible waste. Mike Mcready is surely one of the best rock guitarists of the nineties, so why not take advantage of this fact? Perhaps this was designed to be a nod to the punk ethos, but I am the first to lament absence of musical proficiency.
'Vitalogy', however flawed, represents Pearl Jam's transition from cropped haired grungers to thoughtful and intelligent alternative 'rockers'. Despite what people claim, 'Ten' and 'Vs', however good, were still mainstream and commercial, whereas the three albums after 'Vitalogy' are truly brilliant and non-popular, veering well away from the mainstream, so in the respect 'Vs' is a vital turning point, and all the better for it. Some would say that they miss the early nineties euphoria for Pearl Jam, but others would say that the more mellow and intelligent Pearl Jam of today are the better.
Whatever your taste, one cannot say whether you will like 'Vitalogy' or not. Listen to the sound samples. If you like it, but it. If you don't, don't.