Pearl Jam's Vs.
Review by Steve Huey
Pearl Jam took to superstardom like deer in headlights. Unsure of how to maintain their rigorous standards of integrity in the face of massive commercial success, the band took refuge in willful obscurity -- the title of their second album, Vs., did not appear anywhere in the packaging, and they refused to release any singles or videos. (Ironically, many fans then paid steep prices for import CD singles, a situation the band eventually rectified.) The eccentricities underline Pearl Jam's almost paranoid aversion to charges of hypocrisy or egotism -- but it also made sense to use the spotlight for progress. You could see that reasoning in their ensuing battle with Ticketmaster, and you could hear it in the record itself. Vs. is often Eddie Vedder at his most strident, both lyrically and vocally. It's less oblique than Ten in its topicality, and sometimes downright dogmatic; having the world's ear renders Vedder unable to resist a few simplistic potshots at favorite white-liberal targets. Yet a little self-righteousness is an acceptable price to pay for the passionate immediacy that permeates Vs. It's a much rawer, looser record than Ten, feeling like a live performance; Vedder practically screams himself hoarse on a few songs. The band consciously strives for spontaneity, admirably pushing itself into new territory -- some numbers are decidedly punky, and there are also a couple of acoustic-driven ballads, which are well suited to Vedder's sonorous low register. Sometimes, that spontaneity comes at the expense of Ten's marvelous craft -- a few songs here are just plain underdeveloped, with supporting frameworks that don't feel very sturdy. But, of everything that does work, the rockers are often frightening in their intensity, and the more reflective songs are mesmerizing. Vs. may not reach the majestic heights of Ten, but at least half the record stands with Pearl Jam's best work.
The Stone Roses' self titled album
Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Since the Stone Roses were the nominal leaders of Britain's "Madchester" scene -- an indie rock phenomenon that fused guitar pop with drug-fueled rave and dance culture -- it's rather ironic that their eponymous debut only hints at dance music. What made the Stone Roses important was how they welcomed dance and pop together, treating them as if they were the same beast. Equally important was the Roses' cool, detached arrogance, which was personified by Ian Brown's nonchalant vocals. Brown's effortless malevolence is brought to life with songs that equal both his sentiments and his voice -- "I Wanna Be Adored," with its creeping bassline and waves of cool guitar hooks, doesn't demand adoration, it just expects it. Similarly, Brown can claim "I Am the Resurrection" and lie back, as if there were no room for debate. But the key to The Stone Roses is John Squire's layers of simple, exceedingly catchy hooks and how the rhythm section of Reni and Mani always imply dance rhythms without overtly going into the disco. On "She Bangs the Drums" and "Elephant Stone," the hooks wind into the rhythm inseparably -- the '60s hooks and the rolling beats manage to convey the colorful, neo-psychedelic world of acid house. Squire's riffs are bright and catchy, recalling the British Invasion while suggesting the future with their phased, echoey effects. The Stone Roses was a two-fold revolution -- it brought dance music to an audience that was previously obsessed with droning guitars, while it revived the concept of classic pop songwriting, and the repercussions of its achievement could be heard throughout the '90s, even if the Stone Roses could never achieve this level of achievement again.