Album Review: Pearl Jam, Backspacer

Posted: September 25, 2009 in Album Reviews


A new release by Pearl Jam is always welcome, as they’ve been amazingly consistent throughout their 18-year recording career. They’ve never released a bad album, and while some are certainly better than others, each release has moments of brilliance.
Their ninth studio release, Backspacer, came out earlier this week, and it’s definitely one of the band’s best. Its 11 tracks literally fly by in a brisk 37 minutes, and not a moment is wasted.
The band gets things off to an exhilarating start with four punchy rockers, each of which clock in at three minutes or less. “Gonna See My Friend” and “Got Some” are more punkish, while first singer “The Fixer” is extremely catchy, almost poppy. “Johnny Guitar” has some unique rhythmic changes, and each of the first four gems contain amazing singing from Eddie Vedder (who shines, as usual, throughout the record) and strong guitar interplay from Mike McCready and Stone Gossard. The rhythm section (drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Jeff Ament) keep things moving in the right direction and its probably the hardest rocking opening four tracks of any Pearl Jam album.
But what has made PJ such an enduring band is its ability to shift gears, change the moods. While this album doesn’t contain as many experimental, way out there tunes as other Pearl Jam releases, it contains two amazing ballads in the acoustic “Just Breathe” and album closer “The End.” Vedder describes “Just Breathe” as the closest Pearl Jam has ever gotten to a love song, and he’s right. But it’s far from a cheesy schmaltzfest, the feelings in the lyrics and the singing are genuine and extremely effective. “The End” deals with mortality and how Vedder “just wants to grow old.”
Other highlights are the straight-ahead rocker “Supersonic” and the majestic “Amongst the Waves,” but I highly recommend the whole disc. I’ve listened to it four times now (I can get through it beginning to end on my 35-minute commute to work) and it seems to get better with each listen, a sign of an album that will stand the test of time.
The Sod rating: **** 1/2

Pearl Jam catalogue (as heard through my ears)
Ten (1991) **** 1/2
Vs. (1993) *****
Vitalogy (1994) *****
No Code (1996) ****
Yield (1998) *** 1/2
Binaural (2000) ****
Riot Act (2002) ****
Pearl Jam (2005) **** 1/2
Backspacer (2009) **** 1/2

Ratings system
***** Hall of Fame album
**** Perennial all-star
*** Solid starter
** Bench warmer
* Jim Pankovits and Archi Cianfrocco


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