Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pearl Jam - Backspacer

Finally! That's all that was in my head when Pearl Jam's ninth and latest studio album, Backspacer, arrived in the mail today (because there's surprisingly no Target stores in my area). In fact, I was so prepared to hear this album direct from the CD that I refrained from listening to the streaming versions online. But, in the end... was all of my hype worth it?

Backspacer is Pearl Jam's first release in the last three years following their return to the spotlight with their 2006 self-titled album (and then it was was a four year gap). But a lot changes in three years it seems. For one, this album was released independently after the band decided not to re-sign with J Records; but also the overall tone of the band has changed. With that, it should also be noted that Backspacer was produced by Brendan O'Brien, who produced a lot of Pearl Jam's material post-Ten; so in way this album is both a change and return-to-form for the band.

But, let's look at the music itself... The album opens with one the band's fastest, loudest tracks, "Gonna See My Friend," which has a similar feel to No Code's "Lukin," but with a less angry overtone and bit more of a fun feeling (though I'm not sure how much fun you'll get from Eddie Vedder's yelling); regardless the track sets the mood for the album perfectly. Following the great opener are "Got Some," which was the first track revealed from the album, and "The Fixer," which is the first single from Backspacer. Both tracks have a lot of energy to them, but ultimately feel like something familiar from their Binaural/Riot Act era.

The energy continues onto "Johnny Guitar," which I really found to sound like something new from the band, it won't blow your mind, but it's a good-different sound. Things slow down at the album's midway point, "Just Breathe," which sounds more like a left over from Eddie Vedder's Into The Wild solo-record/soundtrack than a true Pearl Jam track; not that it's a terrible song, it just feels out of place amongst all the energetic tracks on the album. The following tracks, "Amongst The Waves" and "Unthought Known" handle slow in a good way, each with a sort of awesome build up to the end of the album.

But what's that? Well it's energy of course, because the next, fittingly named track, "Supersonic," wakes you right back up after the slow slump there, and overall it's a really nice, straight-up rock track from Pearl Jam, which oddly enough is a rarity. But the rock is slowed down a bit again with the piano-centric, "Speed Of Sound," which, despite my tone against other slow tracks on the album, I happened to enjoy. "Force Of Nature," another purely rock track from the bound, doesn't sound unlike the 2006 material, so if you enjoyed that I think you'll enjoy it. And closing out the album is, what else, "The End", which is a nice slow fade out, but nothing special.

Aside from the music, was the artwork for the album by Tom Tomorrow. I think the style really stands out amongst Pearl Jam previous albums, and I just don't think I'll ever forget "Trike Pimp". Also, the album comes pre-loaded with a neat interface that just link to Pearl Jam's website, but there's also two vouchers to download 2 select full concerts if that's in your interest.

But overall, Backspacer features some excellent new tracks from Pearl Jam, with "Gonna See My Friend," "Got Some," "Johnny Guitar," and "Supersonic," being amongst some of my most favorite work from the band (nevermind that they're also some of the loudest/fastest). But the album also suffers from being the shortest record from the band yet, clocking in at just thirty-six minutes, where as most Pearl Jam albums are in the fifty minute range. Worsening the shortness factor is that a lot of the time is taken up by slower tracks, and I personally was never big on the band's "slow" material. Regardless, there's definitely things for fans and non-fans alike to enjoy on hear, and I think it may be Pearl Jam's most accessible album to date.

Overall Score: 8.8/10

You can buy Backspacer exclusively from Target or iTunes.


Jason Kentros said...

I love this album! Like you, I really enjoy the faster tracks, especially the punky "Got Some", and I agree that "Johnny Guitar" is a new sound for the guys; I also think "Force of Nature" is fairly unique. I love this album, it's a close tie with "Yield" which has been a favorite of mine since I heard it for the first time. I definitely agree that for such a short album they could have limited the "slow" songs.
"Speed of Sound" and "The End" are the only ones I feel I could do without, although parts of Speed of Sound are tolerable. Good review, and I'd mostly agree with your score, but I'd just go with a '9'.

JDW said...

Thanks for the comment Jason. It's not everyday we get comments here, despite the rising readership, so we really appreciate you saying something.

Otherwise, the 8.8 was scored based on comparison of other 9 scored albums or in that range. And frankly, Backspacer was up there, but just not quite there. said...

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