The Jam's not ready to take a fall either, it turns out. The Seattle quintet's new Epic album - untitled in early pressings, now named "Vs." - - is a bit better, or at least more diverse, than its predecessor. Unlikely either to discourage its fans or to appease the band's critics, the disc works toward integrating the neo-boogie and folk-rock elements of the band's sound; where the Pearl Jam of "Ten" was a grunge outfit that occasionally sounded like R.E.M., the new album is the product of a grunge/R.E.M. band.
Sometimes the two styles merely rub up against each other, as when the raspy, bass-popping, Chili Peppery hard rock of "Blood" yields to "Rearviewmirror," which comes complete with a Michael Stipe-like catch in front man Eddie Vedder's voice and a refrain that echoes R.E.M.'s "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)." A countryish acoustic lament embroidered with electric hard-rock guitar, "Daughter" puts the styles in closer proximity, while "Glorified G" finds Vedder and company in full-grunge mode but riding a Peter Buck-style folk-funk guitar hook; the mixture is unusually rich for Pearl Jam, invoking as it does the complex eclecticism of an album such as "Fables of the Reconstruction," the U.K.-recorded R.E.M. effort that drew on everything from Fairport Convention to Gang of Four.
His parody of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" put "Weird Al" [Al' Yankovic] back on the charts after a dry spell, and his new album is dubbed "Alapalooza" (Scotti Bros.) after the traveling rock festival that has presented many of the recent crop of platinum-album grungsters. The closest Yankovic comes to that scene on this album, however, is "Bedrock Anthem," which borrows the tunes of two Red Hot Chili Peppers songs, "Under the Bridge" and "Give It Away," for a predictable tribute to the Flintstones.
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