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Picks and Pans Review: Vs.

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Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam’s follow-up to Ten, their multiplatinum 1991 debut, is so stylistically varied that it renders moot the esoteric quibbling about which balkanized subgenre the Seattle band belongs to. (Alternative? Grunge? Metal?)

Reluctant rock-messiah-of-the-week Eddie Vedder solidifies the reputation he earned with Ten’s Oprahtic tales of childhood trauma (“Alive,” “Jeremy”) as rock’s most therapeutic singer-lyricist. Pearl Jam continues to reach for the heroic gesture, be it a swooping Mike McCready guitar break, a cathartic Vedder screamer or an open-veined, candid story (singing of the bitter end of a relationship in “Rearviewmirror” or the haunting effects of time and memory in “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”).

Vedder, guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament work together like fingers on the same musician’s hand, and drummer Dave Abbruzzese adds inventive rhythmic variety to the bubbling cauldron.

Vedder’s demon-exorcising baritone resonates with inner children by the millions, but he’s not bereft of humor or irony. He rails against gun proliferation (“Glorified G”) and white-male privilege (“W.M.A.”) in a sardonic voice that suggests he knows how futile his protestations are. In “Rats” he even makes a jokey allusion to Michael Jackson’s “Ben.”

Even the album title seems ironic, since Pearl Jam has few enemies—they’ve won over multitudes of listeners, charmed the media and buried the hatchet with crosstown rival Nirvana. Now they’re defeating sophomore-slump syndrome as well. (Epic)