Vitalogy is the third album by the American alternative rock band Pearl Jam, released on December 6, 1994 through Epic Records. Pearl Jam wrote and recorded while touring behind its previous album Vs., released in 1993. The music on the record was more diverse than previous releases, and consists of aggressive rock songs, ballads, and several experimental tracks.
Vitalogy was packaged in a booklet that replicated material from a 1920s medical book. The album was first released on vinyl record, followed by a release in other formats two weeks later. Upon its CD release, Vitalogy became the second-fastest-selling album in history, behind only Vs. The album has been certified five times Platinum in the United States.
Tensions within the band had dramatically increased by this time. Producer Brendan O'Brien said, "Vitalogy was a little strained. I'm being polite—there was some imploding going on." Bassist Jeff Ament said that "communication was at an all-time low." Drummer Dave Abbruzzese stated that the communication problems started once guitarist Stone Gossard stopped acting as the band's mediator. According to Gossard, Vitalogy was the first album in which frontman Eddie Vedder made the final decisions. At the time, Gossard thought of quitting the band. Gossard said that the band was having trouble collaborating, so most of the songs came out of jamming sessions. He added that "eighty percent of the songs were written 20 minutes before they were recorded." During the production of Vitalogy, lead guitarist Mike McCready went into rehab to receive treatment for alcohol and cocaine abuse.
Drums on "Satan's Bed" were performed by Abbruzzese's drum tech Jimmy Shoaf. On the day it was recorded, Abbruzzese was in the hospital having his tonsils removed. Vedder and Gossard asked for Shoaf's help to get a drum machine working, and after setting it up, the pair asked Shoaf to perform the same beat on the drums. He is credited on the lyric sheet as "Jimmy". Months after finishing the initial recording sessions for Vitalogy, Abbruzzese was fired in August 1994 due to personality conflicts with the band members. Jack Irons, the original drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Abbruzzese's successor, plays drums on "Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me".
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic said that "thanks to its stripped-down, lean production, Vitalogy stands as Pearl Jam's most original and uncompromising album." He added that "in between the straight rock numbers and the searching slow songs, Pearl Jam contribute their strangest music — the mantrafunk of 'Aye Davanita', the sub-Tom Waits accordion romp of 'Bugs', and the chilling sonic collage 'Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me'." "Bugs" features Vedder playing an accordion that he found at a thrift shop, while "Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me" was created using looped recordings of real patients from a psychiatric hospital.
Many of the songs on the album seem to be based on the pressures of fame and dealing with the resulting loss of privacy. These include "Not for You", "Pry, To", "Corduroy", "Bugs", "Satan's Bed", and "Immortality". The lyrics of "Not for You" express anger at the bureaucracy of the music industry, while Vedder said "Corduroy" is about "one person's relationship with a million people." In "Pry, To" the phrase "P-r-i-v-a-c-y is priceless to me" is repeated. Many think that the lyrics of "Immortality" may be about Kurt Cobain's suicide, although Vedder has denied this. The lyrics that appeared in the first live version of "Immortality" were altered before the song was released as part of the album. "Better Man" is a song about an abusive relationship. Vedder wrote "Better Man" when he was in high school and performed it with his previous band, Bad Radio. Considered a "blatantly great pop song" by producer Brendan O'Brien, Pearl Jam was reluctant to record it and had initially rejected it from Vs. due to its accessibility.
Rolling Stone gave Vitalogy four out of five stars. Reviewer Al Weisel described the album as "a wildly uneven and difficult record, sometimes maddening, sometimes ridiculous, often powerful." While Weisel praised several songs as "[matching] the soaring anthems of Ten," he criticized some of the more experimental songs as "throwaways and strange experiments that don't always work." Jon Pareles of The New York Times praised the album's diversity compared to the band's previous records. He commented that the band incorporated "fast but brutal punk, fuzz-toned psychedelia and judicious folk-rock, all of it sounding more spontaneous than before." Pareles felt that the band continued to be "unremittingly glum", and described the majority of the songs as "tortured first-person proclamations." Pareles concluded, "Vedder sounds more alone than ever. Time reviewer Christopher John Farley singled out "Bugs" as one of the album's "share of stinkers." Farley added, "But that's one admirably experimental failure on a largely successful album.
Three singles were released from Vitalogy. The lead single "Spin the Black Circle", (backed with "Tremor Christ", also from the album) was the band's first to enter the Billboard Hot 100, reaching number 18. The song won the band its first Grammy Award at the 1996 Grammy Awards, for Best Hard Rock Performance. Neither of the album's other commercially released singles, "Not for You" and "Immortality", charted on the Hot 100, but both placed on the Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts. Album tracks "Better Man" and "Corduroy" also charted. "Better Man" was the most successful song from Vitalogy on the rock charts, reaching number one on the Mainstream Rock charts and number two on the Modern Rock charts.
The booklet contains outdated discussions of health and well-being. Other notes in the booklet, dealing with life and death reflections, seem to be more personal, like a message typed on one of the last pages, supposedly referring to the loss of a loved one ("I waited all day. you waited all day.. but you left before sunset.. and I just wanted to tell you the moment was beautiful. Just wanted to dance to bad music drive bad cars.. watch bad TV.. should have stayed for the sunset... if not for me."). The booklet also displays some poems or original sayings not belonging to the songs' lyrics, but to be interpreted as a commentary to the songs and, again, as a reflection on how life should or shouldn't be lived. An example is the poem typed on the "Aye Davanita" page. The song's subtitle is "The song without words", as it is an instrumental track. But the page displays a sort of poem about the wasted life of a young girl. Another episode of "intruder words" is on the "Not for You" lyrics page. After the second refrain, instead of the actual lyrics, the typed words give a hint about the Sisyphus myth ("Yeah, you call me Sisyphus love. Yeah, I move the rock. I just don't want to talk about moving the rock. Anything that distracts me from moving the rock"). The lyrics to "Whipping" are written on a copy of a petition to Bill Clinton against Pro-Life killings of abortionists. An X-ray of Vedder's teeth was pictured instead of lyrics on the page for "Corduroy".
The original title for the album was Life. The first single, "Spin the Black Circle", was released before the album was released, and on the back of the single it states "From the Epic album Life." The album title Vitalogy comes from the early 20th Century medical book from which the cover art and liner notes are based. Vitalogy literally means "the study of life."
The tour of the United States faced various troubles. Ament said that the band and its crew had to "[build] shows from the ground up, a venue everywhere we went." In June 1995, the band was scheduled to play at San Francisco, California's Golden Gate Park in front of 50,000 people. Before the concert Vedder was forced to stay at a hospital after suffering from the effects of food poisoning. Vedder left the hospital to play the show, however he was not able to finish and ended up performing just seven out of twenty-one songs with the band. Neil Young filled in for Vedder for the rest of the show that day. Because of Vedder's health the band was forced to cancel the remaining dates of its tour of the United States. Some dates were reinstated while the rest were rescheduled for the fall. Ament said, "We were so hardheaded about the 1995 tour. Had to prove we could tour on our own, and it pretty much killed us, killed our career."
|1994||US Billboard 200||1|
|Australian Albums Chart||1|
|New Zealand Albums Chart||1|
|Swedish Albums Chart||1|
|UK Albums Chart||4|
|Austrian Albums Chart||7|
|Dutch Albums Chart||7|
|Norwegian Albums Chart||7|
|German Albums Chart||8|
|Swiss Albums Chart||17|
|1995||Canadian Albums Chart||2|
|1994||"Spin the Black Circle"||New Zealand Singles Chart||2|
|Australian Singles Chart||3|
|Norwegian Singles Chart||5|
|Irish Singles Chart||6|
|UK Singles Chart||10|
|US Modern Rock Tracks||11|
|Swedish Singles Chart||16|
|US Mainstream Rock Tracks||16|
|US Billboard Hot 100||18|
|Dutch Singles Chart||21|
|German Singles Chart||92|
|"Tremor Christ"||US Mainstream Rock Tracks||16|
|US Modern Rock Tracks||16|
|1995||Canadian Singles Chart||67|
|"Better Man"||US Mainstream Rock Tracks||1|
|US Modern Rock Tracks||2|
|Canadian Singles Chart||9|
|"Corduroy"||US Modern Rock Tracks||13|
|US Mainstream Rock Tracks||22|
|"Not for You"||New Zealand Singles Chart||10|
|US Mainstream Rock Tracks||12|
|Irish Singles Chart||26|
|Australian Singles Chart||29|
|UK Singles Chart||34|
|US Modern Rock Tracks||38|
|\"Immortality\"||US Mainstream Rock Tracks||10|
|New Zealand Singles Chart||29|
|US Modern Rock Tracks||31|
|Canadian Singles Chart||62|
|Rolling Stone||United States||"The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time||2003||492|
|Juice||Australia||"The 100 (+34) Greatest Albums of the 90s||1999||101|
|Juice||Australia||"The 50 Best Albums of All Time||1997||35|