How Pearl Jam Scored a Hat Trick with ‘Vitalogy’
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In a way, Pearl Jam’s 1994 album Vitalogy is a companion piece to the preceding year’s Vs. Both records mark evolutionary milestones in the band’s career, they both mix commercially compelling alt-rock with nods to their punk and experimental ancestors and they both play to fans’ expectations while also defying them. More than that, though, they sound like they belong together.
The bulk of Vitalogy – which was released on Nov. 22, 1994 – was written and recorded when Pearl Jam were on the road promoting Vs., their second album and first No. 1. Like its predecessor, Vitalogy was produced by Brendan O’Brien, who once again slapped a tough classic-rock coating on top of the band’s rumbling alternative inclinations.
Relative to the recording of the first two albums, however, Vitalogy went through a more labored birth. After coyly dodging the spotlight since their debut LP Ten made them stars, Eddie Vedder stepped into the frontman role with stern authority this time, which didn’t exactly sit well with the other members. His more out-there tendencies certainly guided some of the songs, especially “Bugs,” “Aye Davanita” and the nearly eight-minute closing sound collage “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me.”
But Vitalogy is mostly loaded with some of the band’s best and most popular songs: “Spin the Black Circle,” “Not for You,” “Corduroy” and “Better Man” rank among Pearl Jam’s all-time greatest. Even though tensions ran through the sessions, the band has never appeared more focused. Vitalogy is the first Pearl Jam album that actually sounds like it was made as an album rather than a collection of songs.
The group scored its second No. 1 with Vitalogy, which stayed at the top for one week. Three singles were pulled from the LP: “Spin the Black Circle,” “Not for You” and “Immortality.” (Only “Spin the Black Circle” charted, reaching No. 18.) But album tracks “Corduroy” and “Better Man” received far more airplay on rock radio stations. Vitalogy has since sold more than five million copies in the U.S. (It’s also the band’s last LP with multiplatinum sales.) And its ties to Vs. remain: In 2011, Vs. and Vitalogy were reissued together in a box set with bonus songs that makes their connection clear.
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