Review Summary: Pearl Jam return with their most focused album in a long, long time.
It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that Pearl Jam's best years are behind them. After more or less peaking with Ten
in 1991, the Seattle group released a string of excellent records during the 90s before dipping into mediocrity with the Binaural
and Riot Act
. Pearl Jam
was a step in the right direction, though at its worst moments (essentially their heavier rock songs) they still sounded like a parody of themselves.
isn't necessarily different from Pearl Jam
in composition, the record is far more focused than anything the band has released in a long time. Even hard rocking tracks like "Gonna See My Friend" or "Supersonic" are a lot less awkward sounding then those of the last three albums, though guitarist Mike McCready is still prone to laying down questionable guitar leads, particularly in the former. More interesting by far are "Got Some" and "The Fixer", both of which drop the edgy rock guise in favour of melodic rock. It's a move that pays immediate dividends; not only does Pearl Jam sound a lot more comfortable in this role, but it's also the most fun the band has been since they released Yield
With that in mind, Pearl Jam's best post-Ten
songs have always been their more relaxed material, and Backspacer
does little to change this. The acoustic "Just Breathe" more closely resembles the build of the material Eddie Vedder penned for the Into the Wild
soundtrack, but the song's nostalgic tone is vintage Pearl Jam. It's a simple track, utilizing soft acoustic strumming and a soothing string make for one of Pearl Jam's most delicate songs, perhaps matched only by "The End", which closes off Backspacer
. "Unthought Known" and "Amongst the Waves" are more typical, drawing on rhythmic, mid-paced instrumentation, while maintaining a sunny disposition. For much of the album, Vedder is the focal point, and while he has probably seen better days, he can still belt it out with the best of them. Vedder's soaring vocals compliment Backspacer
's upbeat atmosphere perfectly and often give offer the record's most memorable moments, most notably the climax of "Unthought Known" and the massive chorus featured in "Force of Nature".
doesn't tread down a new path for Pearl Jam stylistically, but it does differ from past works in some ways. This isn't the same brooding Pearl Jam we heard on "Black"; hell, they aren't even as vulnerable as we heard on "Wishlist". Rather, Pearl Jam's ninth album sounds a lot more optimistic and positive than the band ever has. More importantly, Backspacer
sees Pearl Jam finally escape the slump they fell into with Binaural
nine years ago. Really, even though it's the kind album we all knew the band was still capable of recording, considering Pearl Jam's recent past it's quite the accomplishment. And I couldn't be happier with it.