Pearl Jam ‘Backspacer’ – Review

5 Oct

How are Pearl Jam really viewed in the UK? To be honest I think they are one of the most overlooked bands performing today as many people don’t know they exist and the many that do seem to think they are grunge relics – still living in the shadow of Nirvana. Well hey, I’ve got news for you: they have sold over 60 million records worldwide, their recent UK shows sold out in seconds, their last album was greeted with five star reviews and according to some statistics they were the biggest selling rock band of the 90’s in the states. Surely if anything Nirvana are the ones who should be in Pearl Jam’s shadow.

Though the heady days of grunge, and that seminal debut ‘Ten’ are long gone, the band remain strong still selling out stadiums worldwide. It’s a credit to them that they remain such a must see act, and that they have not put out a duff record yet. The good news is this hasn’t changed with their ninth LP ‘Backspacer’. It’s already become thier first number one album in the US since ‘No Code’ and has been greeted by rave reviews across the board. For my money this is Pearl Jam at their most energized and exciting; their most enjoyable record in over a decade.

The opening trio of tracks are a great demonstration of why this band are so fantastic live. ‘Gonna see my friend’ is their most electric start to a record since ‘GO’ memorably opened ‘VS’. It also builds the listener up brilliantly for the excellent singles ‘Get Some’ and ‘The Fixer’. If you’re already a Pearl Jam fan then you need to think along the lines of ‘Worldwide Suicide’ and ‘Spin The Black Circle’ to get an idea of how angry these songs are, they rock harder than anything from ‘Ten’ and move at a blistering pace. Other songs like ‘Supersonic’ aand ‘Johnny Guitar’ also storm along at a mad pace but as per any PJ album there is a fair number of slow songs. Here, like the faster songs, they are simpler and more fun than anything Pearl Jam have done in years. They definitely lack the challenging edge that songs from their more recent albums had and they don’t stand up as well as the classics (‘Black’, Off He Goes’ etc), but when they are this enjoyable I can’t really complain.

Pearl Jam have always been the best storytellers in rock and this still remains true, even if the songs feel more personal and less interesting than older records. ‘Just Breathe’ has a very pretty melody and some uplifting lyrics about being thankful and mellow and all that. ‘Johnny Guitar’, ‘Unthought Known’ and ‘Gonna See My Friend’ attempt slightly more ambitious lyrics about the likes of drug dealers, rock stars and the human condition but overall there is nothing as biting or as moving as we have come to know from Pearl Jam. disappointing in a way, but the more hopeful tone to the likes of ‘The End’ are certainly a nice change of pace from one of the more pesamistic and political bands of recent times. In their later years Pearl Jam finally seem at peace with the world – a change that is not coincidently coinciding with Barack Obama’s presidency.

Once again, on ‘Backspacer’, Pearl Jam demonstrate why they are one of the best bands in the world. The sheer quality of their craftmanship is now simply staggering, both in lyrics and in music Pearl Jam know all the tricks in the book. ‘Backspacer’ may not be as political as their self titled album, it may not be as complicated and challenging as the two that preceded that, and it certainly won’t be considered a classic in the same breath as ‘Ten’ and ‘VS’. But compare this to recent albums by U2, R.E.M, Metallica or any number of ‘older statesmen of rock’ and it sounds more alive (excuse pun), more exciting and more interesting than anyone. Pearl Jam have still got something, and they’ve got some to share.



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