Music Review: Pearl Jam – Backspacer



Pearl Jam finally returned this year with their 9th full length album, “Backspacer”; a follow up to their 2006 self titled album. Their last release saw the aging rockers take a more direct rock & roll approach to their music than they had been on the couple of albums before it. They left behind the more experimental Pearl Jam sounds and decided to focus on making a rock album.

With “Backspacer”, not much has changed since that last album. Sure, behind the scenes, Pearl Jam is now an “independent” artist and with the results of 2008’s election they are in better spirits; however, musically that didn’t seem to have much impact. On their new album you will find a handful of fast rocking songs, a few slow songs, and a few of the expected “epic” feeling songs that Pearl Jam is so good at. Now one may read that description and think negative thoughts, but that would be a mistake. If Pearl Jam is not the rock band to come out of the 90’s, then they are at least one of the bands that will at least cross your mind when the subject is brought up. Pearl Jam won the world over by melting faces with rock & roll, and I’d be god damned if I wanted them to stop now.

I was beyond impressed on their last release with how much energy these guys seem to still have. In rock & roll years, the members of Pearl Jam could probably be considered to be around 70 years old; but on “Backspacer” and their self-titled, they are showing they can still move at a brisk pace with the best of them. This album clocks in at a Pearl-Jam-record-setting-ly short 37 minutes, and it doesn’t waste a second of it. There are 5 short rock songs on the album and they breeze through 4 of them in the opening of the album. One could argue that they’re wasting some of the energy that they could disperse throughout the entire album, but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest because it’s 12 minutes no rock fan should miss.

The album applies the brakes in the 5th track with the song “Just Breathe”. A beautiful acoustic song in which Eddie Vedder contemplates some heavier subject matter in an almost annoyingly catchy manner. After a few listens this quickly became one of my favorite tracks on the album.

The album actually flows quite nicely when listened in entirety. After the acoustic track brings you down from the opening rock tracks, you are then slowly worked back up with 2 mid-tempo rockers, only to break into the appropriately titled and raging “Supersonic” at track 8. The album then delivers a soft piano driven ballad, a more mid-tempo rocker, then closes out with another intimate acoustic song. Bam! Over! What happened?

They Got Some If You Need It...

They Got Some If You Need It...

Now, it’s possible that one could be expecting more from Pearl Jam at this point in their career; but albums like “Backspacer” are what Pearl Jam has always done best. By all means, don’t invest in this album if all you want are the fast rockers, because they consume only about 15 minutes of the 37 minute album. The real appreciation of this album comes from the fact that no matter what sound they are doing; Pearl Jam has mastered their craft in it. Sure, anyone can make fast rock songs, it’s the slow songs where Pearl Jam always shines brightest. With the swarming arrangements, emotional vocals, and straightforward delivery, it’s hard not to get lost in them.

My only real complaint about this album is its length. I do love how it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but considering I’ll probably have to wait another 3 years for more new Pearl Jam, I was hoping to have more than a half hour worth of music to chew on. Another point is that Eddie Vedder’s vocals do feel a little more restrained on this album. The more unique nuances of his voice are hidden, which actually makes for a more accessible album to casual listeners. However, if you’re one of the people who grew to like Eddie Vedder because of those unique reasons, you might be a little let down.

Love ’em or hate ’em, Pearl Jam can rock. If that’s not your thing, so be it; Eddie Vedder isn’t for everyone. This album might not win them much new respect, considering they’re not doing anything new; but this is still an extremely talented group of musicians who clearly still have some spark left in them. Obviously, if you’re a Pearl Jam fan you already own this album and I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know; but this is an album I’d even force my Pearl Jam hating mother to listen to.

Rating: 9/10


~ by axknel on October 17, 2009.

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