If a fortyish man ever asks you, “Were you a Nirvana fan or a Pearl Jam fan?”, you’re talking to a Nirvana fan. Pearl Jam fans never ask this question. Much was made of this early grunge rivalry, which was almost entirely manufactured by posers who pretended they had more cred than other posers. Cobain briefly expressed disdain for Eddie and Co.’s anthemic style, then retracted that disdain, had a nice talk with Eddie on the phone, and said he liked him. What remained was a lot of Nirvana fans who swallowed a media-conjured debate and pretended their favorite Top 40, MTV-darling, Rolling Stone-cover band was, you know, like, realer. But they’re both seminal bands with lots of great tunes, and it’s worth remembering that Pearl Jam (a) jumped off the MTV-video machine with their second album, and (b) gleefully released a genuinely weird and subcultural third LP that cost them legions of casual fans.
Is In Utero better than Vs.? Was Nirvana’s Unplugged more electrifying than Pearl Jam’s Unplugged? I’ll leave those debates to guys who are still trying to prove their Pixies/Westerberg/Sex Pistols taste is cooler than other guys’ Neil Young/Kiss/arena-rock taste.
Vs. is a gangbuster album. There’s so much tension and propulsion in “Go”, “Animal”, and “Rearviewmirror,” and so much heartfelt, oddball pop-hookery in “Daughter” and “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”, it’s hard to believe the album came from a band who was, at the time, badly dazed by the music world’s ludicrously high expectations. Vs. holds up.