19 Years Ago: Pearl Jam’s ‘Vitalogy’ Album Released
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 celebrates its 19th anniversary today — 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.
Watch Pearl Jam Perform ‘Not for You’ on ‘Saturday Night Live’