Rats

Pearl Jam‘s second album, Vs, contains a song called Rats (along with several other masterpieces of their catalogue). The song features a beautiful bassline on E minor, as well as some interesting lyrics. It is those lyrics that came to mind recently.

The song essentially attempts to compare the behavior of rats with that of human beings. The first verse goes:

They don’t eat, don’t sleep
They don’t feed they don’t seethe,
Bare their gums when they moan and squeak
Lick the dirt off a larger one’s feet

From the get-go, the lyrics are weird. The first line appears to elevate a negative characteristic of rats and explains that humans are unlike that (the assumption here is that we sleep more regular hours and eat more regular meals than rats). But the second line is unclear. Humans clearly seethe, and so do rats. The third and fourth ones clearly describe behaviors of rats.

Second verse:

They don’t push, don’t crowd
Congregate until they’re much too loud
Fuck to procreate till they are dead
Drink the blood of their so-called best friend

Well clearly this stanza chastises humans, with the possible exception of the third line, since I have the feeling that rodents tend to reproduce much more often than primates.

Chorus:

They don’t scurry when something bigger comes their way
Don’t pack themselves together and run as one
Don’t shit where they’re not supposed to
Don’t take what’s not theirs, they don’t compare

This is definitely in favor of humans except…

Verse #3:

They don’t scam, don’t fight
Don’t opress an equal’s given rights
Starve the poor so they can be well fed
Line their holes with the dead one’s bread

Ouch.

Chorus again, twice this time:

They don’t scurry when something bigger comes their way
Don’t pack themselves together and run as one
Don’t shit where they’re not supposed to
Don’t take what’s not theirs, they don’t compare

Bridge to outro (not sure if this is even a correct term):

They don’t compare, rats
They don’t compare, rats
They don’t compare

And outro proper:

Ben, the two of us need look no more (x6)

In all likelihood a reference to the namesake character of this movie.

As one goes through this track, it’s hard not to “keep score”. Assuming that some of the more confusing lines are either pro-rat or pro-human, one starts making imaginary scoreboards in their mind.

– Maybe we need to split the first one 3/4 for humans and 1/4 for rats…

-Last line of chorus is a snide remark on humans thieving….

-Doesn’t the bridge favor rats since one would typically use the phrase “They don’t compare” in a positive way for whoever “they” is?

-…

Until at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, you realize that you are forced to count votes in order for humans to win a moral battle against rats.

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