Pearl Jam

Backspacer

Written by: PP on 07/11/2009 20:56:21

Three years have passed since Pearl Jam's excellent self-titled album, which has sold over 700,000 copies in the US alone. Many saw it as a return-to-form album, where the band dropped the experimentalism of the last few preceding albums in favour of a more urgent alternative rock / grunge rock sound. It seems that Mr Vedder has found new sources of inspiration from somewhere as "Backspacer", the ninth Pearl Jam studio album, is every bit as good as "Pearl Jam" if not better. In short, it showcases Pearl Jam doing what Pearl Jam does best: sounding like Pearl Jam. As cliché as that may sound, it really is the best way to describe how "Backspacer" sounds like, because no other band has been able to imitate the band successfully so far.

First half of the album has me thinking "this is the best Pearl Jam album in over ten years", which is funny because that's exactly how I felt about their self-titled album as well. The truth is, these guys are always good even when they are at their worst (2000's "Binaural" anyone?), and when they're at their best, they are easily one of the best alternative rock / grunge acts around. Think about it: all the original grunge artists disappeared, and were replaced by mostly boring, generic and unambitious post-grunge acts, but not Pearl Jam. That's probably why "Backspacer" sold 189,000 copies in its first week of sales alone, debuting at #1 on the BillBoard top200.

The first four songs of the album continue in the vein of "World Wide Suicide" and "Life Wasted" in that they're high-tempo, hard hitting grunge rock pieces where Vedder's almost bragging with his ability to add quirky (and not engineered) effects to his vocals. Whether it's up-and-down scaling of a particular range, or just flat out arena rock-suitable singing, he seems to be successful. The fifth track "Just Breathe" slows the pace down for a touching ballad where Vedder calmly sings "I'm a lucky man to count on both hands the ones I love....some folks just have one, yeah, others they got none, uh-huh", and for once I'm not slandering a ballad because this one's simply too good for me to do so.

Afterwards "Amongst The Waves" and "Unthought Known" lead the album to a somewhat anonymous section, before "Supersonic" leads us back to punk rock tempos and Vedders trademark up-down vocal harmonies. Another ballad "Speed Of Sound" follows - does anyone else think about Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" because of the slow tempo and the "waiting for the sun...that just don't come" bit in the chorus?

The last two tracks share a lot in common with "Amongs The Waves" and "Unthought Known", they just aren't as well-written as the first five tracks on the album, although "Force Of Nature" is decent. This is actually a tendency I'm starting to see with all too many albums these days, bands packing the early part of their album with great material and forgetting about the last part, leaving a flat impression towards the end. That's also why "Backspacer" is still only an album worthy of an 8, because there isn't a balance between the great tracks and the less-great tracks on the disc. Still, the sound of Seattle is still very much alive based on this record, and you shouldn't be afraid to call this another landmark Pearl Jam release. Yeah, it sounds very much like the 90s, but is that such a problem?

8

Download: Gonna See My Friend, Johnny Guitar
For the fans of: Bush, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots
Listen: Myspace

Release date 20.09.2009
Monkeywrench Records / Universal

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