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“Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy Has Never Been Remastered on CD… Why Not???”

Gather ‘round, kiddies! We now have a very SPOOKY tale about an album which came out directly following the death of Kurt Cobain, which features a song “Immortality” which was first played live a day after Cobain’s death, which features as a titular theme “vitalogy,” or, “the study of life,” [1] as if attempting to make some stone-written inscription on the face of music eternity.
Along these lines of sociology and existentialism, too, sometimes it’s easy to forget that Pearl Jam is almost like a supergroup, sort of. Part of the reason for this, of course, would be the band’s lack of ego-related self-destruction over the years. For all the knocks on Vedder for being an egomaniac, or on the band’s sound for being overproduced, or whatever, it’s still been the outside world which has inflicted the most calamity upon them, in the form of the 2000 concert tragedy in Roskilde, Denmark at which nine people died, and as with everyone the obstacle to an enjoyable concert experience that is Ticketmaster.
But what with guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament having already been in the moderately successful Mother Love Bone, the songwriting, and song-understanding plurality is there, without question, and the band make a deliberate habit of accrediting a wide range of its own members with creative rights, within each given album. Most strikingly, perhaps, Jeff Ament is the sole catalyst behind “Nothing as it Seems,” a song set in his home of Montana and handling a domestic incident he witnessed.
But any way, this “super” idea of the weird packaging, and of offering the aggressive, punk-minded “Spin the Black Circle” as the lead single following an album opener set in an unorthodox time signature, certainly must be the product of an extraordinary sense of purpose — or, yes, a “big head,” if you’d like to put it that way. You don’t claim to know about “the study of life” on your third album, when you’re already world famous, without a certain element of conceit hydrating the process.
So amidst this dizzying bevy of forces facilitating the creation of Vitalogy, the question is begged: what is this album’s true, core essence? With Vs., it’s a little clearer: originally dubbed “Five against one” and featuring cover art of an animal being trapped, the album is a blatant comment on the band feeling like slaves to the label. It seems the votes are still coming in about Vitalogy, and what with “Black Circle” released as the first single, it seems that the band’s obvious intention was to confuse people, and yes, maybe make some sort of “punk” statement. [2] Of course, the record industry did get back at them in due form by allotting “Black Circle” Pearl Jam’s first Grammy, hence Eddie Vedder’s being miffed at the acceptance speech.
But as we all know, punk rock is typically lacking in refined production, a lack which it wears as a feather in its cap, not a drawback. If a punk album is “overproduced,” like Times New Viking’s Rip it off, for that matter, it’s done so not as a way of drawing attention to the songs but rather making a sonic statement apart from the melodies and sequencing (in the liner notes for that album it states that it was “Mixed and Fu**ed by Matt Horsesh**… forgive me I can’t cuss on this blog or it will get filtered at library computers).
And guess what… the production on Vitalogy is kinda crappy, in my opinion, at least compared to how it could be. I was messing around listening to some of the band’s official live albums on iTunes, such as the one from October 2013 in Brooklyn, and that guitar sounded so da** good! There are absolutely no guitar tones as good as that on Vitalogy, nor are there even as good as “Nothing as it Seems,” which appears on an album Brendan O’Brien CO-produced, whereas he’s the sole knob-twirler for Vs., Vitalogy, No Code, Yield, Backspacer and Lightning Bolt. “Whipping” is my favorite song on Vitalogy. There is no way, though, it matches the sonic intensity of the LIVE version of “Go,” let alone the time-stopping O’Brien studio version which kicks off Vs. It just happens to possess one of Vedder’s finest vocals, the “They whipping-AHH!” toward the end, and approximately my exact guitar habits when I’m just at home messing around, in the rough mindset of punk rock.
Pearl Jam Twenty offers sundry nuggets of information as to why O’Brien would feel uneasy before the general operation that is Vitalogy — primarily that Vedder was doing the bulk of the songwriting at this point and he was in something like a “Brendan wants to do it, so let’s not do it,” type of phase. The rest of this band was roughly in turmoil at this point, Gossard considering quitting (which may partially explain why the rhythm guitar doesn’t sound that biting), and McCready struggling with addiction. It’s possible that the sole thing that held them together was Kurt Cobain’s death, and their own desire to fulfill the void in mainstream rock caused by such a departure, maybe as much as a moral obligation to the fans as any opportunistic business venture.
What’s odd, though, is that also in many ways his paw prints are more clearly visible on this album than on others, and the reasons are auspicious and illuminating too. “‘We went interlude crazy,’” as he’s quoted saying in Twenty. “Pry, to” and “Aye Davanita” are both memorable one-to-two minute segments of music, which, if nothing else, at very least epitomize, and precipitate, Pearl Jam’s loose, unpredictable, spitting-in-the-face-of-the-man attitude which would lead them through what are in my opinion some years which would rival their best — Yield and Binaural, as well as the epic, neverending dispute with Ticketmaster.
So Vitalogy, perhaps, more so than actually being Pearl Jam’s best album (one view of timeless classic Single Video Theory will make a strong case for Yield in this department), is certainly the SKELETON of greatness — offering what seems like every type of song under the sun, from the interludes mentioned earlier, to the raucous nonsense of “Black Circle” to “Not for You,” which Rolling Stone chose as its essential Vitalogy track for its 2002 reader’s poll, and which I’ve heard described as “Neil Young-like.” It was unimportant, as it was the third album of an already elitely popular mainstream rock act and featured an unpalatable lead single, but it was important for all its skeletons — the looming of Cobain’s death surrounding it, the otherworldly “interludes” providing what’s indeed some aerating deviation from pop/rock, and all the band’s instability and turmoil going on.
In 2011, the band released Vs. & Vitalogy, a retrospective collection of their second and third albums, their fist two with Brendan O’Brien. [3] On the Amazon page for this compilation, the Vs. cuts feature the word “Remastered” after them, and the Vitalogy ones don’t. [4] One interesting process which went on around ’94, according to other spots in Twenty, was that Vedder didn’t even want to release “Better Man” at all (it’s actually a song the compilation of which predates the band’s embryonic days), and only did so under the persistent coaxing on the part of O’Brien, and a complimentary plane ticket from Seattle to Atlanta to do the recording. It’s O’Brien on pipe organ in the song’s intro. Perhaps O’Brien feels some guilt for exploiting Vedder this way, like he’s already unearthed enough archetypal artistic form, the anatomy of which is all too telling. Or maybe he wants to make the whole thing look like an accident. Such is often the case with killings, even if all you’re killing is “Satan.” [5]

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Addenda: Referring to the Pearl Jam site with an innocent glint in my eye.

I did some research on Pearl Jam’s actual site (pearljam.com), under the “Music” tab, which led me to the Vs. & Vitalogy release, and the three options — the “Expanded Edition” with just the two discs, the “Deluxe Edition” with the two albums plus Live at the Orpheum Theater, and the “Limited Edition Collector’s Boxed Set,” which I think comes complete with like some of Mike McCready’s phalanges, or something. The site states that even for the simple two-disc “Expanded Version” “the original studio albums (were) newly remastered, along with album-era bonus tracks”… but you know what? I don’t think Vitalogy was ever remastered for CD. [6] As I said before, the word “remastered” appears after the Vs. tracks on Vs. & Vitalogy Expanded Edition, but not after the Vitalogy ones. Also, the Vs. tracks stand alone as a “Vs. Expanded Edition,” devoid of the latter album, whereas no “Vitalogy Expanded Edition” exists for CD. And don’t let the 2013 “Vitalogy” title for CD on Amazon fool you: this seems like just a decoy, and the term “Remastered” does not fall after the track names on this bizarre release, the way it does for the “Vs. Expanded Edition,” which, as I alluded to before, comes in a package without Vitalogy accompanying it.
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[1] An excerpt from Jonathan Cohen’s Pearl Jam Twenty nicely denotes the endeavor: “For months, a loose album concept had been brewing based on an 1899 health reference book that Vedder had purchased at an antique shop titled Vitalogy, or, in other words, the study of life.”
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[2] I remember seeing something in Kurt Cobain’s Journals about punk rock being directly equative to freedom.
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[3] O’Brien would go on to complete a remastering project of Ten, but did not act at controls during album’s original recording.
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[4] For the record, Vs. needed a remastering like I need a hole in my head or a pair of tits.

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[5] “Satan’s Bed” is probably my second favorite number on the album, and marks what I believe is the band’s first ever use of the technique of weird, intimidating sound byte opening the track, a “whipping,” in this case, appropriately enough.

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[6] Although to be fair, there is a “Vitalogy Vinyl Edition (Remastered)” available on Amazon, and this is definitely a separate issue.

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