Sound — 9
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.
Lyrics — 7
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.
Overall Impression — 10
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.