The song that almost gave what became Vs. its name. Whenever I hear “Animal” certain words come to mind: “elastic”, “bounce”. It’s not just an aggressive rock song; there is both intensity and fluidity in the rhythm section, as if a second song undulated on its own accord below the surface of shouts and lead guitar wails. Dubbed “Weird A” on the Gossman tape that begat so much of Ten and its accompanying b-sides and outtakes, the musical half of “Animal” was an logical choice to build a song around and include on the band’s second record. Compressing the roiling, pummeling, vaguely funk-inspired riffs that constituted the bulk of their debut into an extremely tight bomb of a song, barely three-minutes in length, “Animal” looked (pushed) simultaneously forward and back.
What impresses me most about “Animal” is how Vedder phrases his lyrics around the music, which from experience is not an easy thing to do. We can assume now with the publicized developments surrounding Yield, that many songs written by band members other than Ed are brought to him fairly finished, with at least a basic melodic trajectory that the singer can play around with. At the start of the band’s career, Ed was given whole reams of songs that were written and recorded prior to his joining, that he somehow had to find an honest way of contributing to. It’s remarkable how seamless his contributions to “Richard’s E”, “Dollar Short”, and “Weird A” really were, to completely make them his own. On “Animal” he phrases “Torture from you to me” to begin when the music abruptly halts, letting the guitars jumpstart each verse, and enhancing the intensity of the song in the process. His singing is instinctual surely, but nonetheless intelligent, a fact that gets overshadowed by (deserved) appreciate of his unique timbre.
Lyrically, I have no idea what’s going on with “Animal”, except that it would deserve its title even without its signature line, “I’d rather be with an animal”. Reading them all at once, I thought for a second that the scenario sounded horrifically like it could be describing gang rape. A quick run to Wikipedia confirmed that I’m not the only way to reach this conclusion. But then I realized that the band came within an eyelash of naming their second record “Five Against One”, and decided that if that line actually referred to five rapists, well, I guess that’d be reason enough for them to switch to Vs., but really I think the gang rape idea is a misinterpretation. Of course it’s difficult to fault someone for misinterpreting a song so vague, where based only on what we know of the band and Ed’s lyrical concerns of the day, we can only safely guess that it’s about dealing with the unwanted baggage of fame. As such, my fondness for “Animal” is strong, but composed mostly of nostalgia and familiarity. Weird, eh?