There seems to be two types of Pearl Jam fans. There are the ones who think Pearl Jam lost their way after their third album, “Vitalogy”, and there are the fans that have come to accept the band as a touring jam band. The first group still holds out hope that the band will return to the type of material that they released on the albums, “Ten”, “Vs.” and “Vitalogy” while the other group could care less what Pearl Jam does as long as they continue to put the material out.
Pearl Jam attempted to reconnect with the first group of fans when they released 2006’s self-titled album. That album was the hardest rocking Pearl Jam album since their debut record “Ten” yet what it proved was that Pearl Jam couldn’t go home again. That is not to say that “Pearl Jam” was a bad album but rather it was a mature album that had more thought behind it than the youthful angst of “Ten”. Whatever the case may be Pearl Jam has continued to rock on bringing fans to their latest effort, “Backspacer”.
The first single off of “Backspacer”, “The Fixer”, is a upbeat, feel good, rocker that is quite indicative of the album as a whole. Whereas past Pearl Jam albums have dealt with worldwide issues and politics, Pearl Jam cuts the preachy rhetoric with “Backspacer” and looks within for inspiration and what is revealed is something that will bring a smile to the face of any Pearl Jam fan, regardless of what side of the fandom they fall on. It is an album that finds the band truly comfortable with themselves as a unit, possibly for the first time ever.
The album kicks off in high octane with the rocker “Gonna See My Friend” and the tempo doesn’t let up for the first third of the album. “Got Some”, “The Fixer” and “Johnny Guitar” all share the upbeat tempo that “Gonna See My Friend” does (as well as its short run time) but each offer something different to listeners, be it the driving party bass line and the poppy feel of “The Fixer” or the distorted guitars of “Got Some”, each song has a unique feel to it.
The acoustic “Just Breathe” dials back the rock as a piece of folksy Eddie Vedder poetry that feature some of the best lyrics provided by Vedder to date. It is immediately followed by “Amongst the Waves”, which is in my opinion, one of the best Pearl Jam songs to be released since “Better Man”. The Stone Gossard / Vedder penned track highlights every member of the band and in doing so highlights the many reasons why Pearl Jam has stayed not only popular over the past 18 years but also relevant.
The title “Amongst the Waves” aptly describes the direction of the album as the first half build to “Just Breathe” and “Amongst the Waves”, the high points of the album, and just like a wave in the ocean that has crested it begins to crash down. I don’t mean that in a bad way though. If anything the second half of “Backspacer” is filled with a stronger set of overall songs than the first half. “Unthought Known” features another beautiful all band effort that rises slowly building to a strong crest and leading perfectly into, “Supersonic” which is a fun balls out rocker. “Speed of Sound” is another strong lyrical entry from Vedder, while “Force of Nature” is a strong lyrical rocker penned by guitarist Mike McCready and Vedder that features some excellent guitar work by both McCready and Gossard. And it ultimately all closes out with the aptly named slow tempo entry, “The End”.
“Backspacer” is a deeply personal album that shines a light on where this iconic band is at now, with members who are now all over 40 yrs old. More than any previous Pearl Jam entry feels like it was made by the band for the band and that they enjoyed making it. It all comes across as Pearl Jam’s most fun album to date and that is something I think all fans of Pearl Jam will be able to appreciate.
4 out of 5
Top Songs: The Fixer, Just Breathe, Amongst the Waves