October 10, 2009

Reverb Ramblings – Pearl Jam’s “Backspacer”

So I'm introducing a new semi-regular section: the Reverb Ramblings. And by semi-regular I mean "No more regularly than I have been, and completely and totally sporadically." And for the first issue, Pearl Jam's new album, Backspacer, is going to take the honors of breaking the Ramblings out of the gate.

Backspacer is the follow-up to PJ's eponymous 2006 effort. The album shows off a new, seemingly "lighter" version of the band that helped define the early 90s Grunge Era. However, the sound works well, as it's not an entirely new sonic direction for the band, echoing much of the tone of 1996's "Yield." Check out the video for the first single, The Fixer, here. The Fixer, the album's third track, shows The Jam leading their faithful horde of Caucasian rock fans in a high-energy anthem with Eddie Vedder's usual attempts at a vibrato singing voice. The majority of the album follows Yield's lead with ringing guitars, and a relaxation of Stone Gossard's distortion pedal, although there are some deliciously crunchy riffs to keep most Pearl Jam fans happy. "Gonna See My Friend," the leadoff track, opens up the album with a run through an exploration of addiction in Pearl Jam fashion. The middle of the album slows sonically, with "Just Breathe" providing an almost bluegrassy feel, while "Amongst the Waves" shows off PJ at their summery, surfer rock best. "Supersonic" and "Speed of Sound" pick the pace back up before the aptly titled "The End" sends the album off on a more melancholy tone, easing the listener out rather than abruptly ending with some out-of-place rocker.

Okay, now for some strong words that will surely alienate any Pearl Jam fan from ever reading my ramblings again…"Backspacer" may be Pearl Jam's best work since…"Ten." You heard me. 18 years in, and PJ has finally created the album, that, from start to finish, is their best and most complete work since their seminal album. Look, I love "Yield" and parts of "Vitalogy," but really, both albums have their weak points. Now, only time will well if "Backspacer" holds up as Versus, Ten, Vitalogy, and Yield have, but at least for me, the 2009 version of Vedder, Gossard, McCready, and Cameron has found a new, fantastic stride. But let's get real: we all know Pearl Jam will continue to step out of line and try something different-but-the-same for whatever album comes next. But I'll be waiting with baited breath to spin their next black circle.

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