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?


~ by Michael on August 1, 2007.

15 Responses to “Animal”

  1. Its like you read my mind with the elastic and bouncy quality ou are referring to here. I guess it could be about gang rape, but i suppose only Eddie really knows.

  2. Just dug up this little Ed quote:

    “I don’t wanna talk about [who the anger is directed at]. It’s not so much personal, it’s just, some person at the record company said the other day that they wanted the vocals turned up. He wanted people to understand exactly what I was singing. So I told him what it was about and he said, ‘You’re right. Let’s leave the vocals as they are. Maybe we don’t really want people to understand it.'”

  3. Oh, I remember that quote now. Could actually be! Yikes.

  4. Has anyone actually ever listened to this song and thought about rape? Not me. It is a great aggressive quintessential PJ rocker, that’s all. I don’t know why people insist every song has to have some deep underlining meaning.

  5. With that said, I think this song kicks (rapes) some serious ass. Hard rock and melody all balled up into one. Ahhh, good ole Vedder.

  6. ….by the way, I wasn’t insuating either of you felt that way about their music. Ok, I’m done.

  7. Who can forget seeing the band perform this song live with Neil Young at the 1993 MTV music awards? I regularly check that one out on YouTube. A great track, and my favorite single from Vs.

    I’ve always thought of Animal as a misanthropic rant, a la Rats or, to a lesser extent, Daughter, with the verses sung from the perspective of an abused animal — naturally. (Abuse, of course, also figures thematically into Go.) The animal in question could be human, but “Abducted from the streets” and “Why would you want to hurt me?” makes me wonder.

    The chorus strikes me as the narrator making clear his disdain for the sadistic and parasitic aspects of human behavior, which seems to be the overriding theme of the album. As in Rats, the narrator here is more empathetic to “animal” society than human.

    And didn’t five against one signify the band members (five) vs. the listener (one)?

  8. Hmmmm… your idea of the song being from the perspective of an abused animal makes a lot of sense to me. Me likey.

    And that’s how I always interpreted “five against one” as well.

  9. the deep groove…the funky of it…the music is so quintisential elemental monumental Pearl Jam…lyrics definitely move to the back here, and i always took them literally…someone who’s been abused (never thought of rape before now, but it certainly makes sense…sadly), and that person is simply saying that the company of an animal is preferable…but, whatever, it’s more about the rhythm of the lyrics and how he fit them with the music…music the likes of which we have rarely seen…
    and that mtv awards performance with neil young, the power and the glory…such an impact it had on me, i had lived in a situation for most of ’91 to ’93 with no t.v., and really no real access to “mainstream” culture…but, in august of ’93 i moved into a place with a t.v., and CABLE!..i had been listening to Ten virtually non stop since Deb gave me the cd for valentines day in ’92, but had never seen a photo, video or anything else of the band, only the Ten fold out poster/lyric sheet…i had no idea what they looked like for that whole time…maybe hard to believe but true…it was just the music…which, i found out later was exactly the way it should be…just the music…so that Aug., Sept. of ’93, seeing the Jeremy video, seeing them perform live at the award show with Neil Young…seeing the face behind the voice, seeing them actually make that music…yeah, i remember it well. thanks!

  10. and then Vs. came out. and i was one of the million people who bought it in the first week…and felt like one in a million, too. hard to explain, but it was at that point, maybe listening to the first three songs on Vs. when any hope that i might return to life as it was before i heard Pearl Jam disappeared. that no matter what else happened, even if all they did was Ten and Vs., it would be my favourite music for as long as i had ears and memory. it was just a time and place thing maybe, that causes these connections…but that was the time and place.

  11. This is one great example, as C13 points out, of what Eddie was able to do with the material that he was given. WEIRD A wasn’t a fully realized song like ALIVE or BLACK. It’s really just a minute of riffing. If you listen to WEIRD A, then listen to ANIMAL, you can hear the more aggressive, punkier direction that Eddie took the band. I hear a big leap in the conceptualization of the songs in the move from Ten to Vs, and a step away from their Mother Love Bone big-riff roots. The count-off is an inspired idea. I love it to this day.

    I also think about the MTV performance when I think of this song. I love No Way’s interpretation, but I can see how a lot of people would see that song as being about gang rape. The sustained, tortured yet eerily musical screams, the hunted look in Eddie’s eyes, his disheveled appearance. It’s funny, but I don’t listen to Vs. much these days. For what ever reason, when I’m listening to the studio albums, I tend to pick up the later ones, but when I do listen to it, it still explodes like a bomb.

  12. I don’t get a chance to hear this song much anymore, except for the occasional bootleg. But it has never failed to deliver the goods. I’ve always found the second track on a Pearl Jam album to be indicative of how the record will play for me…”Animal”, “Hail Hail”, “Faithfull” “Spin the Black Circle.” All of these songs represent my feelings on the record as a whole. “Animal” is no exception…a funky, manic explosion with one seriously deep groove. Pretty much explains how I feel about Vs in general.

  13. I’m going with the gang rape argument. That’s always been my take and I’m sticking to it, especially with the ed quote mentioned above.

    And I think the band, from a purely metaphorical standpoint, could definitely relate to the feeling of being raped (by record companies, by the media, by the breathless urge to capitalize on the “Seattle sound”) … that it is quite possible that this is why a lyric from this song nearly wound up as the album’s title.

    Musically, I think it’s interesting that C13 notes in his original post how ed fits the lyrics around the music. That’s a part of ed’s “game” that goes completely underrated. He’s the master of taking a piece of music that, frankly, most humans would have no idea wtf to do with it, and shaping into something melodic.

  14. another thought, in regards to the “rape” argument …

    When ed sings “I’d rather be with an animal …” I think he means “be” as in a sexual sense.

    Although I’m not a woman, and have never been raped, I would think that’s how it must feel. To be pawed at, overtaken, and ultimately devoured.

  15. I just rediscovered this song after I saw the MTV clip for the first time. Now I’ve been playing it all the way to work in the morning. I am not sure what it is ‘about’ and it doesn’t matter.
    It helps.

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