Released: Sep 20, 2009
Genre: Alternative Rock
Label: Monkeywrench Records
Number Of Tracks: 11
Although Pearl Jam delivers more of its mellow side on Backspacer, the Seattle band still knows how to make an impression.
UG Team, on october 09, 2009 5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Sound: Pearl Jam has always been a band of statements whether that has taken the form of fighting back against Ticketmaster or campaigning for human rights and their musical message remain strong as well, even if the delivery is a little quieter in 2009. Close to 20 years has passed since the iconic grunge album Ten was released, and as one might expect, the heavier rock-oriented side of Pearl Jam has dissipated. That's not to say that distorted guitars and driving bass lines don't ever make an appearance on the band's new album Backspacer, but there is more of a mature (sometimes the dreaded adjective is appropriate) approach to the material. In listening to the new songs, it's hard to not think back to those classic jam sessions with Neil Young because they do seem to follow in the footsteps of the Buffalo Springfield singer/songwriter.
Backspacer, which was produced by Brendan O'Brien (1998's Yield), has a seamless flow in terms of energy. While some bands might prefer to have an ebb-and-flow to their playlist, Pearl Jam kicks things off with a large dose of energy and ends in the quietest of manners. The opener Gonna See My Friend is a rock tune with a traditional approach, highlighted by some fantastic lead guitar lines underneath the verse. The chorus features some of the heaviest parts with a good dose of distortion and Vedder's lower vocal register harmonization. Got Some is an insanely catchy single that will get stuck in your head for hours to come a sign of an original tune if anything. Got Some seems to feel the most like Pearl Jam's earlier works, and as the second track in the playlist, it draws you in to hear more.
Johnny Guitar revolves around the perfect vocal phrasing by Vedder and the singer's engaging storytelling style. A few moments after Johnny Guitar subsides, however, things start taking a mellower turn. Just Breathe is easily one of the most introspective, folksy numbers on Backspacer. It's certainly a beautiful song, but it's fairly basic in its approach, with a song construction that stays fairly consistent. Tracks like Speed of Sound and Among The Waves are also low-key in comparison with a song like Got Some, but Waves does feature an explosion of emotion from Vedder in the ending moments that keeps the song intriguing.
Perusing the songwriting credits, you can see the personalities of each member coming through their respective songs. Jeff Ament has a keen ear for a hit single and that aspect comes through on Got Some; Stone Gossard's offerings are more riff-heavy with Johnny Guitar and Supersonic; and Vedder is still somewhat in the Into The Wild zone. Vedder's amazing work on the 2007 film's soundtrack was essentially emotionally charged acoustic material that proved he had a great deal more to offer than the usual Pearl Jam single. We get a remnant of that mindset on Backspacer with the final track The End, which although stripped down and dark in comparison to the other 10 songs, is the highlight of the entire CD. // 8
Lyrics: One of the most appealing aspects about Pearl Jam has always been their ability to find unique stories. Backspacer lives up to their solid reputation, with topics ranging from Johnny Guitar Watson's album cover to the human psyche. The track Johnny Guitar features some of the most entertaining lyrical content with lines such as, Johnny Guitar Watson staring at me; Riding on 3 wheels, a woman on his knee; With a leg under a red dress I wish I could see; Further North a warmth alive & lingering. There are also the usual themes driven by emotions, and The End takes the cake in terms of being the most haunting. After all, it doesn't get quite as cryptic as Vedder's final lines of the album: Before I disappear; Whisper in my ear; Give me something to echo; In my unknown futures ear; My dear; The End; Comes near; I'm here; But not much longer. // 9
Overall Impression: Backspacer at times feels like a conglomeration of Pearl Jam's work throughout the past 20 years. Although the grunge element is pretty much nowhere to be found, the band hasn't completely lost its connection with rock. The impact might not be quite as instant as you might have gotten with a song like Porch or Alive, but after a few listens every song begins to grow on you. While Got Some and Gonna See My Friend are the best at providing that instant gratification you might need with a radio single, it's The End that packs the biggest punch even with a bare-bones acoustic setup. // 9
Vinushka, on october 09, 2009 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: Pearl Jam. They need little introduction; giants from the 90's alternative/grunge movement, their debut release "Ten" firmly implanted them as legends.
Throughout a long and ever-changing career they have produced a wide variety of albums, constantly evolving, sometimes alienating older fans but gaining new ones and this is an important thing to remember when approaching Backspacer.
When I first heard this album I was massively disappointed, it seemed Pearl Jam had lost their edge, lost their aggression, the lack of solos and "poppier" sound was nothing like what I expected. But then I realised that's where I was going wrong; I was expecting something from Pearl Jam. It sounds strange, I know, but Pearl Jam are a band that has never been driven by a desire for commercial success, they've only ever done what they wanted to do, regardless of what everyone else said. They've always made albums they were happy with and you've got to remember that every time you approach a new Pearl Jam album.
So, my first two or three listens of this album were disappointing, but then I found myself singing "The Fixer" all day so I came home and listened to it again and it started to grow on me. If you take 36 minutes out of your day and dedicate them to listening to this album you'll hear an organic, straightforward rock record with an unstoppable energy and beautiful simplicity. It might not be the next Ten, but it sounds like Pearl Jam are actually enjoying themselves in this album.
Another noteworthy aspect of Backspacer is the production, courtesy of Brendan O'Brien whose credits speak for themselves. There is great clarity led to each instrument while still maintaining cohesive, driving sound.
This album features the usual line up that we've come to love from Pearl Jam. Stone Gossard on rhythm, Mike McCready on lead and Eddie Vedder on vocals and rhythm guitar. Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron provide a solid rhythm section on bass and drums respectively.
Now a track-by-track:
01. "Gonna See My Friend": this album opener really sets the tone, it bursts out of the gates with a driving, galloping energy. All the signatures are here, a growling bassline, energetic drumming, layered guitar work and Vedder's howling vocals.
02. "Got Some": one of the leading songs from the album, played on a variety of live shows. Got Some is an excellent song, opening with some nice, rapid drumming from Cameron and a little guitar hook. The verses are mainly vocals, bass and the bass drum with little guitar accents here and there. Simple, but effective.
03. "The Fixer": the lead single from the album and for me at least, a real double-edged sword. This is without a doubt the most pop-oriented Pearl Jam song to date, it even features a little bit of synth work here and there. But it's a cheerful, upbeat and happy song. It'll get you singing along and I really like Vedder's vocal performance.
04. "Johnny Guitar": another energetic, driving song, though it isn't quite as catchy as the first three songs it's still a decent number, but nothing about it is immediately recoginisable. A nice little bit of wah guitar in between the verses and over the chorus but ultimately it feels a little like filler.
05. "Just Breathe": and suddenly Pearl Jam pull a total 180 and go down the introspective, acoustic route. This is a very calming, simple song and it offers a welcome respite from the pounding energy of the four preceding songs. Some excellent acoustic work, carried along by minimal bass and some strings here and there. Vedder's vocal performance is full of meaning and emotion.
06. "Amongst The Waves": this is my personal favourite song from the album. It's the most "complete" sounding song, it moves from gentle, slow opening to upbeat, positive chorus, it has some excellent sing-along moments and an excellent solo. There are many little touches in this song which make themselves obvious with each subsequent listen, it's a layered, complex and strong song.
07. "Unthought Known": this another good song, starting off slow and calm, it builds towards a soaring crescendo with the whole band going at full throttle. It's a very atmospheric song, very mature-sounding and very honest and open and it completes, nicely, this little trifecta of slow songs, before we move on to...
08. "Supersonic": this is an excellent song, with a bouncy, old time rock n' roll feel. Vedder's rapid-fire vocals, some chunky power chords and the thumping rhythm section are sure to get you up and jumping. And halfway through the song is dissected by a classic McCready solo; it's short, but it's oh so sweet.
09. "Speed of Sound": contrary to the title this song isn't a rollicking, energetic rock number. It's another slow moving, ballad-y song with piano, minimal drumming and some nice accents of guitar here and there. I'm still in two minds about this song, a part of me really likes it, but another part of me isn't sure. I suppose it really depends on your personal opinion, but this definitely isn't one of the album's stronger tracks.
10. "Force of Nature": opening with a nice guitar lick, driven by some chord work, then Vedder's signature vocals come in. This a pretty decent track, it's nothing groundbreaking but there are some nice touches here and there that elevate it above normal and make it something more.
11. "The End": this is, in my opinion, an excellent song to end the track on. A nice, touching track about going through life, loving and losing, growing old and generally being human. Vedder's voice sounds like it's on the edge of tears at time and the strings take this song and give it that feeling that makes the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It sounds dramatic, but I can imagine this song being put to a slideshow of the band after they break up or pass along. It's an excellent, touching track which shows a maturity and vulnerability that Pearl Jam have never shown before. // 8
Lyrics: Vedder has always been an...individual singer and lyricist. From the mysterious lyrics of "Yellow Ledbetter" (does anyone ACTUALLY know what they are yet?) to songs like "Alive", which is inspired by Vedder's childhood and "Jeremy" which is about a high school student killing himself in class. Vedder has demonstrated an ability to draw influence from a variety of sources, whether they be his own life or world politics or just nonsense. Vedder's vocal delivery has always been gruff and gravelly, he howls, he mumbles, but his style is unmistakable.
The lyrics on this album range from average to excellent, many of the songs such as "Gonna See My Friend", "The Fixer" and "Johnny Guitar" don't seem to have any immediate meaning, but they leave room for you to attach your own, which is always a good idea because if someone can attach their own meaning to your music then it becomes special to them.
However, other songs like "Just Breathe" and "The End" have definite messages and these songs are excellent examples of Vedder's ability to reach deep inside himself and pull out some touching songwriting ability. "Just Breathe" is all about love and family and being human, so it is nicely contrasted by "The End" which is about things ending, the end of life and still, being human. I suppose these two songs could be considered a sort of Ying and Yang affair.
Overall, Vedder gives a good lyrical performance on this album and his voice, though aged, fits the tone of the album excellently. // 8
Overall Impression: Pearl Jam made the wise decision, long ago, to give themselves room to maneuver and space to evolve. They've always been a band who have done things their way and throughout a career peppered with controversy, doubt and hardship they have stuck to their convictions and used their music an outlet. Much like their inspiration, Neil Young. They've become a mature band now, demonstrating a skill and grasp of their craft that would put fledgling bands to shame. But the most admirable thing about them, in my opinion, is their unflinching desire to do things their way. They have never been afraid to try new things and take their music in a new direction. As I mentioned before, sometimes this has lost them fans or gained them new ones but they've always been Pearl Jam and nothing else, making no excuses and no apologies.
Backspacer is probably not their best album, but then again to be their best album it would have to beat Ten and lets face it, that's not going to be easy. It is however, a strong, cohesive and straightforward offering which is organic, mature and full of energy. // 8
GrungeBeatle, on october 09, 2009 1 of 2 people found this review helpful
Sound: Thus far, this is the biggest departure from Pearl Jam's sound. While they have experimented over the past decade with everything from punk to spoken word, they have never before done a generic rock album. Some songs retain a more traditional hard rock Pearl Jam sound (Got Some, The Fixer) while some draw on outside works such as Eddie's work on Into the Wild (Just Breathe). However songs such as Gonna See My Friend, Johnny Guitar, and Supersonic seem bland in comparison to the rest of the album and the rest of Pearl Jam's discography. // 6
Lyrics: Backspacer hit or miss when it comes to its lyrical work. The stand out song on the album is definitely The Fixer which details Eddie's maturation when it comes to relationships; a song more of acceptance than rebellion or heartache. However songs like Gonna See My Friend come off as repetitive while the track Johnny Guitar is just another rock song about a guy who wants to be a musician and/or loves rock music. Eddie's vocal work on this album is similar to his toned down work on Into the Wild, but on many of the songs, the vocals sound compressed or restrained such as on The Fixer and Got Some, songs that were otherwise decent sans the mismatched vocal work. // 7
Overall Impression: With all the great work Pearl Jam has done, this album pales in comparison to hiterto albums. There are several standout tracks that make this album worth buying, but the bland, more generic rock songs weigh it down and tend to feel like filler songs. Even though this album may not be their greatest, many songs still hint at previous records while others bring in new influences which I look forward to seeing in future Pearl Jam work. On a side note, some albums come with the ability to download two entire concerts without additional charge which will be a bonus to collectors of Pearl Jam's great live recordings. // 7
unregistered, on november 26, 2009 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: Pearl Jam have a very recognisable sound. Eddie has such a distinctive voice, you can identify it from anywhere.
Backspacer is very differant to most of their previous albums. Songs like Just Breathe are songs that for the first time after listening to a Pearl Jam album thought it should be on Eddies solo album. But songs like Amongst The Waves bring back the memorys of past McCready solos like Alive. // 10
Lyrics: I think Backspacer has some of the best lyrics Eddie has writen. His song-writing has always been 10/10 but on this album his lyrics are mind-blowing. Songs like The Fixer and Johnny Guitar have some of the finest lyrics in them.
I like the fact that Eddie is much more open to writing about his child-hood and I think because he is much more open, hes not afraid to write a lyric that people might refer to as his childhood.
Also, I think Eddie has the greatest Voice in Rock and I think he's the best songwriter ever. // 10
Overall Impression: I think Backspacer is the best album since No Cod. Songs like 'Got Some, Gonna See My Friend, Supersonic and Amongst The Waves' are just breath-taking. It is without a doubt the best album of 2009, and Pearl Jam deliver a better album than their inpressive 2006 self-titled album.
Songs like Unthought Known work amazingly live. I think songs like Unthought Known can be compared to previous songs like Rearviewmirror, songs that just build and build until they reach full climax, and then they quieten down again, Pearl Jam are the masters at writing them kind of songs.
The set-list of the Album Is:
01. Gonna See My Friend
02. Got Some
03. The Fixer
04. Johnny Guitar
05. Just Breathe
06. Amongst The Waves
07. Unthought Known
09. Speed Of Sound
10. Force Of Nature
11. The End
Overall, Backspacer is a great album, no strange ones (Unlike Vitalogy) lots of great solos, and a very enjoyable listen. // 10
nzhead, on october 09, 2009 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: In my personal opinion, Pearl Jam have once again made a poor choice for a first single, because for me "The Fixer" is one of the weakest tracks on a pretty strong album. The album is by no means a departure from Pearl Jam's previous work - but at 37 minutes for eleven songs, with just two tracks sneaking past 4 minutes it is by far the bands shortest album to date. The opening four tracks, "Gonna See My Friend", "Got Some", "The Fixer" and "Johnny Guitar" combine for less than 12 minutes, but it is all energy. There is a clear and concise feel about the music, which I'm sure is partly (at least) down to the return of the brilliant producer Brendan O'Brien. There are not a huge amount of solos throughout the album, and few nods to the past - this is not a "Ten" or "Vitalogy" -but maybe an album sharing a sound somewhere between 1998's "Yield" and the most recent "Pearl Jam". // 7
Lyrics: Whilst this may not have any complex songs or structures, one thing it does showcase is the fact that Eddie Vedder is still one of the best lyricists in rock today. There is little angst except for perhaps "Got Some" which seems to be about a drug deal, but moreover Backspacer seems to suggest Vedder has found peace in life, with lyrics of love and friendship dominating the album. "Just Breathe" is one of the most beautiful songs Vedder has written while "The End" shows he still can pull on emotions as he writes about someone who is dying and afraid, leaving a family behind. This is not to say the album is soft and this direction from Vedder is subtle, and never gets sappy. // 9
Overall Impression: I was reluctant to buy this, as I wasn't overally impressed when I heard "The Fixer" (or "Supersonic" for that matter), but there are some great tracks on this album. "Gonna See My Friend", "Got Some" and "Johnny Guitar" have that great punk attitude the Eddie Vedder has developed over the years whilst "Amongst the Waves", "Unthought Unknown" seem to soar like "Given To Fly" and there is beauty in the acoustic tracks "Just Breathe" and "The End". If you are like me and moved on from waiting for another "Ten" or "Vs" and enjoyed the ST album and "Yield" then this album is worth buying (if not for Vedder's lyrics alone). However, if you still long for 1993 and are waiting for another grunge opus full of long angst-ridden songs then this may dissapoint. // 7
cuige, on october 09, 2009 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: Three years have passed and finally it's time for a new album from one of the greatest bands on the planet: Pearl Jam. And I give them that title because, once again, they have have treated their fans to a fantastic collection of songs. Backspacer's sound, however, can hardly be compared to any of the band's earlier works. That being said it still captures the unique energy that only Pearl Jam can bring to the table. The album clocks in at just 37 minutes making it the shortest studio release from the band yet. It is also one of the best. It encompasses a great range of musical genres and influences from the Stooges style opener "Gonna See My Friend" to the folk sound of "Just Breathe" to the manic grunge energy of "Supersonic". It is this variety that gives Backspacer it's own niche in the Pearl Jam collection. Kudos must go to Brendan O'Brien, returning to produce a Pear Jam album for the first time since 1998's Yield. That album, along with Vs, Backspacer and the recent remix of the band's debut Ten, must surely make him the man perfectly suited to the job of getting the most beautiful and energetic sound from these men. Sound-wise, this album is flawless with a fantastic balance between all instruments whether is be drums, electric guitar or horns. Excellent! // 10
Lyrics: Backspacer marks the first time since Vs that Eddie Vedder is credited for all lyrics in a Pearl Jam album. While Vedder has certainly written better than what is on show here, what is noticeable is the positive vibe coming from his words. Perhaps now that George W. has vacated the White House, Eddie feeels he can concentrate more on writing about things like surfing and falling in love with women on album covers. After the recurring themes of political frustration coming from Riot Act and Pearl Jam, this is certainly a welcome and refreshing change. While he still writes of pain in songs like "Speed Of Sound" and "Force Of Nature", Vedder cannot but help emit a level of optimism at the same time. As always, Vedder's delivery and performance are top notch. You will always come across people who criticize his voice but pay no heed to these fools. There is no doubt that he has one of the most pure and unique voices in modern music today. // 9
Overall Impression: It takes a special kind of band to be able to change their sound after so many years but Pearl Jam are a special kind of band. I do not expect those who have slated the band for every release since Ten to feel any different about Backspacer but I recommend this album whole-heartedly to the real Pearl Jam fans and to anyone else who maybe is wondering whether to try out listening to the band for the first time. This is a mighty group of tunes, personal favourites being "Gonna See My Friend", "Johnny Guitar" and "Just Breathe", just to name a few. But don't take my word for it! Go buy it yourself! Listen and enjoy because in a world where the musical mainstream isn't in the best shape at least you can take solace in the fact that there is still a band like this coming up with the goods! I'm already looking forward to their next release! See you in three years time! // 9
unregistered, on october 09, 2009 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: In 2009, Pearl Jam released Backspacer. Resulting in Their first #1 album of the decade. I must admit, I was a little concerned when I heard that Pearl Jam's new album had pop and new wave elements to it. But just like Binaural and Riot Act, it is like a different genre poured through a Pearl Jam filter. The only thing pop about this album is that there are a few slower songs and that PJ actually seem happy. If you do not like pop, don't worry about it, this is far from it.
01."Gonna See My Friend"
06."Amongst the Waves"
09."Speed of Sound"
10."Force of Nature"
11."a" // 10
Lyrics: Like I said, the more positive lyrics is a new thing for Pearl Jam. This is most evident in The Fixer were Eddie Vedder gives a situation, then offers a way to fix it. The song Just Breathe is a song about love, Vedder even described it as "as close to a love song as we've ever gotten." I also like the lyrics on Speed of Sound and Force of Nature.
Another new thing on this records is that it is easier to understand Eddie Vedder, even on faster songs, unlike the last record. Also Backspacer is the first Pearl Jam album to feature lyrics exclusively written by Vedder since the band's 1994 album, Vitalogy. EV, still the best. // 9
Overall Impression: The record sales do not lie, Backspacer is the best PJ album of the 2000's(Avocado is close though). It is an album with wider appeal than the previous records. My favorite song is Got Some which I have liked since it was played on The Tonight Show. My least favorite song is "Unthought Known". All the others are worth a listen. I do not like how short the record is, there are some missed opportunities to have a big ending, but Pearl Jam is not about that anymore. There is also two free concert downloads for hours of amusement with the CD. If it were stolen or lost I would get it again. This is the Pearl Jam album of the decade! // 10
planetogo, on october 12, 2009 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: Pearl Jam have continued to move in the direction that their last few albums have been pointing. Years of experience seems to have given them a more finely tuned musical imagination, so to say that the album's sound is more refined is not to say that it is devoid of experimentation, merely that whenever Pearl Jam try something a bit different the result, rather than coming off like an experiment that just missed the mark, it still sounds as refined, professional and complete as if they had built their career on it.
There's no screwing around on Backspacer. Pearl Jam just straight up play the songs, no extended solos, no endless vocal ad-libs and no melodramatically long intros or outros, just nine, two to four minute rock and roll tunes. While songs like "Gonna See My Friend", "Johnny Guitar" and even "The Fixer" are classic demonstrations of Pearl Jam's not quite punk, not quite arena rock sound, they're still memorable in their own right. "Just Breathe" and "The End" are perhaps the most remarkably different tracks on the album, representing the greatest departure from Pearl Jam's back catalogue, mostly due to the prominent fingerstyle acoustic guitar playing and string sections, but also because of their wistful aesthetic, uncommon even to Pearl Jam's other acoustic numbers.
The rest of the tracks all contain some slightly unusual elements for Pearl Jam songs, many containinig, dare I say it, a sweetness, absent from much of Pearl Jam's work. Eddie Vedder seems to have been involved more heavily in the writing process, and his influence can be heard in the similarities to his solo work. The differences and idiosyncracies of each track are also much more subtle than one would expect. Pearl Jam have never been a band to wag musical theory, jazz scales or odd time signatures in your face, but still make use of them, and what's more they do it musically. Let's face it, how many people have noticed that the verse of "The Fixer" is in 5/4 time and it changes back to 4/4 for the chorus? No? It took me a while too. // 8
Lyrics: While on previous albums most of the band members have contributed lyrics, Backspacer's lyrics are solely Eddie Vedder's. That having been said he lends himself to a variety of writing styles, from the narrative leaning of "Johnny Guitar" to the expressionistic "Amongst the Waves" and even the use of a simple pattern device in "The Fixer". Maybe some would consider this a cheap lyric generator, but I've always thought it works well as long as it serves it's chorus, and the simple refrain of "I wanna fight to get it back again" is a marvellous payoff. Besides, who would criticise Bob Dylan's, "How many A must a B, before C".
Vedder's lyrics are much more in a personal vein this time round, dealing more with themes of relationships, friendship and a man's place in the world, with much less reference to the political and social issues that are so often Pearl Jam's focus. I guess they're fairly happy with Obama then... They can tend to be a little vague, or oblique at times, but I think that the lyrics generally serve their songs.
In recent years Vedder's voice, which is an oft cited turn off to potential Pearl Jam fans, has been more controlled, his delivery more measured to suit the song, and his diction clearer, allowing us to actually hear the bulk of the lyrics without having to flick through the liner notes as much. Backspacer continues this trend, marking what is probably Vedder's most professional vocal recording thus far. But worry not, there's still plenty of his wild, abandoned energy permeating the album, but not overloading it with an overly aggressive approach. // 7
Overall Impression: If you've never liked Pearl Jam, this album won't win you over. Eddie Vedder's voice may have mellowed enough to win new fans, but not from the camp of long-term detractors. If you've never heard Pearl Jam before, this is a fine album to start with, allowing you to backtrack. If, however, you're like me, a die hard Pearl Jam fan you'll love Backspacer. I can honestly say that there isn't a bad track on the album. Which of course makes it hard to select any stand-out tracks. Not that this is a bad thing, after all any one of them would stand out on an album populated by two and three star songs, but the fact of the matter is that every track on Backspacer is hitting at three and a half to four stars.
While I will concede that there aren't any true, five star all time classics on here, no "Alive" or "Betterman", at least one out of these nine will appear on most fans' favourite Pearl Jam songs list. Backspacer has met my high expectations, even exceeded them, but still doesn't hold the place in my heart that "Pearl Jam" does, but that's probably because I haven't had the chance to listen to it as much.
From a band that have consistently released great albums, Backspacer is a continuation of the trend, and is even microcosmic in its consistently high-quality content. It really is one of the few albums that is all killer and no filler. // 8
Bananafish003, on june 03, 2010 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: I'll put it this way: Pearl Jam is a very overrated and underrated band at the same time. Many of their fans think that they're the best band ever, while others absolutely despise them. What I find funny is that neither side seems to be able to legitimately back up their view. I'll admit that I think that Pearl Jam is a great band, but they have fallen down before, in a long string of albums following Vitalogy. Thankfully, their 2006 self-titled album was a return to form and with Backspacer, they've only gotten better. You may hear gossip that it's a more laid-back album than some of their others. Ignore that gossip. Just because Pearl Jam decided to throw in two ballads, it doesn't mean they're losing their punk aggression. Just listen to that opening: for almost the entire first half of the album, the band tears into the pounding new songs without letting up for four tracks straight, crushing any doubt that they've gone soft. There's a drug song (Gonna See My Friend), a possible Chuck Berry reference (Johnny Guitar?) and some of the most accessible stuff they've done in a while. Strong riffs and driving rhythm give way to pop structures and genuinely catchy material. The songs stay melodic and memorable without losing any energy. And yes, the energy does die down a few times; there are two ballads on this CD, Just Breathe and The End, but they're surprisingly likeable and not particularly sappy. Pearl Jam's style is less complex and rough-sounding than on their last album, and songs like Supersonic and Amongst The Waves put even more emphasis on this point. But in changing their sound ever so slightly, they've written some of their best rock songs in a while. // 9
Lyrics: Now Eddie Vedder is without a doubt a love-him-or-hate-him singer, and I count myself among his fans. If you couldn't stand him before, this album probably won't change your opinion of him, as there's a lot of him there. The lyrics are a strange case on this album; from a band that once ended an album with the line "Some die just to live...", we now hear phrases like "Riding high amongst the waves" and "I wanna live my life with the volume full!" Pearl Jam's been quite depressive up to this point, but it seems lately they've grown more optimistic. I'm not so sure if I like the way it sounds, but it certainly fits the context of the album, and none of the lyrics seem particularly bad. // 7
Overall Impression: Along with Radiohead, Pearl Jam are great survivors of the 90s, but unlike Radiohead, they've been messing around with little to no successful song ideas for quite some time, now. If you've been following Pearl Jam on their twisted journey into the 21st century, this is the album you've probably been waiting for. Fans of both Ten and Vitalogy will likely love it, as well and many newcomers who have never heard of the band before. If you still hate the band (or just Eddie Vedder), it's probably not going to change anything. If you've lost faith in the band, this may help you get it back. But in my opinion, Pearl Jam has released a great album, possibly the best of the year, and I wouldn't let it go by without giving it a chance. // 10