Looking back at … Vitalogy
Stream – ‘Tremor Christ’
This is just one break for a very hectic life built on a routine. This is the moment where the pages of dear past can be opened once again with sweet longing and pride to have included this music in the soundtrack of my teenager season. This is only a humble attempt to talk about a band that made the difference and placed its name on the top of the world’s list of legends and represented a powerful fuel to our restless minds.
Pearl Jam is the colossal band I refer to, and I must admit it’s hard to rant about someone and single only one particular album like Vitalogy (we all know about this album, no doubt). It is by far a classic and one of the several basis for respectable “contemporaneous” music, and it belongs to one of my favorite decades of music, the 90s. The whole frame is completed by the sentence reading “Pearl Jam is a major representative of Grunge”, in brief, a milestone made of music.
A little bit of history is that Vitalogy was Pearl Jam’s third studio album, released in November the 22th, 1994 (as a vinyl record, and in December the 6th in other formats). This album was conceived during breaks and sound checks of the band while on tour for their second album Vs., a masterpiece as well (if I can add that personal note).
The result of this jamming is just breathtaking, where experimental songs as ‘Bugs’, ‘Pry, to’, ‘Aye Davanita’ and ‘Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me’ were the hidden face of the moon in the universe made by this sublime band.
Brutal sincerity, master riffs that still resonate in our minds, a gifted voice. The whole rage and unconquerable spirit of the band members conjugates to express accurately and give the right strength to the words that needed to be heard. A good example of this comes in ‘Corduroy’, singing “I don’t want to be held in your debt / I’ll pay it off in blood let I be wed“; a song of dissatisfaction, pride, and conviction against not only one person, but against the whole ‘fame’ concept and people who live on it.
Lyrics are wise and will leave us wondering, giving second thoughts, to them and then shake and wake up the pain caused by yesterday’s scars, as words and music are equally important for the band and brilliantly manage to get this complement done. Eddie Vedder – a man that is blessed with that special gift to express thoughts and feelings with words and that can really take us to the extreme with just one prolonged syllable – created true classics as ‘Better Man’, a song considered by some as one of the most popular songs ever in rock history; no matter how pop this could be, it hurts every time I listen to it.
Commentary was not done only about fame or personal memories, as Vitalogy also includes one track that appeals for social awareness through Grunge styled riffs, like the perfect choice to raise everyone’s voice and be ready to submit our arguments. This song is ‘Whipping’, which would remind me of a “whipping boy”, a concept I sadly know well. In fact, this particular bass line made me turn my head to the possibility of playing bass guitar: it’s simply magic, quick, explicit and goes straight to your head.
One of my favorite tracks is ‘Tremor Christ’, which is the bearer of a line I still believe as true: “The smallest oceans still get big big waves […[ take my time / not my life”. These lines can truly become dynamite all accompanied with the martial touch of drums and the beautifully discrete riffs of Stone Gossard (who happens to be one of my favorite guitar players), the bass line (courtesy of Jeff Ament) following with special care, all together to bring the smooth flow of a river to my ears.
This album floats carelessly and firmly through each sentence the band conceived. It’s an intimate catharsis of things that may take as a start point our deepest traumas, ghosts that haunt our past, a well-founded disagreement, a way to find the courage and speak out (which is fundamental indeed when talking about teenagers), to then explore the vinyl records experience (‘Spin the Black Circle’). This album is so versatile that it would offer a big laugh as well, with songs like ‘Bugs’ (“Bugs in my ears / should I join them? / I think that’s the one”); the first time I heard this track I was really wondering if by any chance did I get the wrong CD; it’s pure fun, improvisation, and it’s just amusing how it was placed next to a song like ‘Corduroy’ (maybe a practical joke). I’m still speechless after more than 10 years I listened to this album for the first time.
After the massive bugs invasion, there’s ‘Satan’s Bed’, which it’s a fun title too: it’s a 100% rock song with an elegant – aggressive bass line and rather “simple” drumming; I truly love the guitar riffs here: minimalistic, dynamic, every note would have a reason to be there. Lyrics would insinuate the band was really dealing with a fame and popularity issue and perceived it as a major souls-corrupting agent; it’s like fighting against the tide.
‘Immortality’, the penultimate song, becomes a heart-felt ballad. The title of the song represents a taboo itself and delivers a track with the sound of silent grieving, resignation upon events where accepting there’s nothing left to do is the wisest of all. Guitar riffs would remind me of David Gilmour, in the sense that Mike McCready and Stone Gossard really got involved with the grieving atmosphere, managed to get the utmost of their guitar chords and expressed their own souls, letting them fly.
‘Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me’ is the final track to this set of emotions, reasons, explosions and sadness. This track would also put a big question mark in my mind: a distorted, mental, irrational song with rather simple, yet spooky drumming (courtesy of Mr. Jack Irons). I later came to know the voices of this song are actually recordings taken at a psychiatric hospital, which is a fact that really adds the “creepy” factor to this experiment and mostly when the title of the song comes from anonymous lips, the lips of someone with a vision of the world we will never understand; it really makes me wonder that maybe these people are the healthy ones and that our “sanity” standard should be revisited ASAP. The song closes with a voice asking to someone if he/she would kill him/herself, then a female voice answers “Yeah, I think I would.” The end.
Vitalogy meant a lot for music history and it meant a lot to me, indeed! Every song would have moments, memories and feelings encapsulated in each second of every song; it’s like coming back to a safe and experimental place full of lessons to be learnt. 1993 and 1994 were years in Pearl Jam’s history considered as a very critical point, where the band breakup was still an option to make their lives more bearable, the whole fame matter really made them mad (they stopped making videos), they couldn’t just take the pressure their label would put on their shoulders (‘Not for you’), and they had the Ticketmaster scandal (source). All of this together leads me to believe this was a way out or an outlet for the band at that time, as it was an outlet for many people that made this album theirs, escaping from the big rendu-comptes of a so complicated season of everyone’s life, or just to find enough strength to speak up.
Memories are like a big shelf with tapes, pictures, movies, objects. My shelf contains music tapes mostly, and Vitalogy (among others) is just in the middle, trying to balance the spaces I have assigned to my past and to my present .
Listen to Vitalogy @ Spotify.