Last night I bumped into a bloke who I used to go to school with. During our brief conversation he asked me if there was any good new music around, to which I swiftly replied, “Of course there is.” He then proceeded to tell me how he thought a lot of new music, specifically rock music, is all just “generic, over-produced crap that doesn’t deserve any acclaim.” Bullshit, especially when one of the biggest albums to hit the shelves this spring is Pearl Jam’s latest effort Backspacer.
They say there is nothing more important than a good first impression and Pearl Jam clearly adhered to this saying. Backspacer begins with an explosive twelve-minute onslaught of Gonna See My Friend, Got Some, their first single The Fixer and the riffy Johnny Guitar. While the first two and fourth songs look to dispel any notion of an aging nineties rock band, The Fixer seems to be simply a Matchbox 20 song with Eddie Vedder vocals. Moreover, the chorus lyrics of “yeah yeah yeah” seem to portray genuine positivity – hardly a trademark of Pearl Jam. Regardless, it seems the five angsty musicians have finally found a way to have fun.
The album then takes a dramatic turn, as Vedder performs an acoustic track not unlike his work on the Into The Wild soundtrack. This love song seems certain to star in the relationship of countless numbers. Vedder wears his heart on his sleeve as he proclaims, “Did I say that I need you?/Did I say that I want you?/Oh, If I didn’t I’m a fool you see/No one knows this more than me/As I come clean.”
Backspacer then moves into more familiar territory for Pearl Jam, as they look to recapture the angsty sound that was so effective on their first albums. Amongst The Waves is home to a great Mike McCready guitar solo as well as a chorus that can be considered one of their great sing-a-long choruses in recent memory. The next track Unthought Known is one of the standouts on the album. Incorporating a piano into the instrumentation, this song is home to Vedder’s best vocal performance on the album and could be considered the ‘Black’ of Backspacer. No small compliment.
However, Vedder and co. move quickly past melancholy with Supersonic. This punk song has a fantastic bridge and is another great up-beat demonstration of the band enjoying every minute of their newfound optimism.
The album rounds out with the regret-laden Speed Of Sound, the groovy Force Of Nature – equipped with cow-bell and all – and the acoustic and perhaps foreboding The End, as Vedder delicately sings, “My dear/The end/Comes near/I’m here/But not much longer.”
Of all the albums released this year few will be met with higher anticipation than Backspacer. However, Pearl Jam seem determined to ignore the expectation, as the overall impression that can be taken away from a few listens to Backspacer is that it is simply the recording of five blokes jamming and loving every minute of it. All of Pearl Jam’s albums come with double shots of love, angst, and regret. This one comes with all that and more: a bucket-load of fun and positivity. Great stuff.