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27/09/2009 Pearl Jam 'Backspacer' Review
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|Pearl Jam 'Backspacer' Review|
|27-09-2009 10:20 | 0 comment(s)|
| Have you caught that Pearl Jam MTV Unplugged gig on VH1 Classic lately? The 1992 set has Eddie Vedder jumping around, fluttering his rock-star eyelashes, scrawling the words "PRO CHOICE" on his arm, as the boys in the band flip their hair like hippie-chick hitchhikers trying to flag down a Camaro. "Jeremy" or no "Jeremy," these were guys who wanted to have fun.
Backspacer, Pearl Jam's ninth album, backspaces to that boyish spirit, with the shortest, tightest, punkiest tunes they've ever banged out. The whole album is done and dusted in 37 minutes, a record for these guys. Unlike your average long-running rock band, Pearl Jam started off specializing in slow, ruminative, rope-a-dope ballads and didn't have any instinctive knack for playing it fast or loud. On their early records, punk nuggets like "Spin the Black Circle" were just filler, and you sat through them because you were waiting for the next awesomely slack-jawed torch song á la "Black" or "Daughter." But Backspacer comes out swinging with "Gonna See My Friend," "Got Some" and "The Fixer" — a nine-minute trio of gut-punchers that get the momentum rushing like no other Pearl Jam album openers ever.
Brendan O'Brien is producing the band for the first time since Yield, the 1998 gem that defines the parameters of the mature Pearl Jam the way Ten defines their frantic early days. Like Yield, this revs the tempo while adding classic-rock texture to the punk rush, with layers of Thin Lizzy twin-guitar raunch going on down below. The pile-driving solos that spin out of control at the end of "Got Some" could be nicked from the Stooges in "Gimme Danger" — but the Seventies-flavored cowbell-boogie charges ahead way too fast for anything to feel quaint.
Eddie Vedder's heart-on-fire vocals are the main attraction, as always. He seems relieved not to have to go on singing about George Bush, and he loosens up enough to share his guarded optimism in the new songs. There's a definite positivity to the "yeah, yeah, yeah" choruses that jump out of "The Fixer," which evoke the old openhearted vulnerability of "Wishlist." "If something's old, I wanna put a bit of shine on it," Vedder growls. "When something's gone, I wanna fight to get it back again." And the rugged acoustic ballads Vedder did on the Into the Wild soundtrack carry over into "Just Breathe," a love song that deserves to become Pearl Jam's wedding-song standard.
The songs seem to mess around with a loose theme of addiction and recovery. "Got Some" (with Vedder chanting, "Got some if you need it") could be a dealer's invitation, while "Speed of Sound" is the flip side, a late-night barroom lament from a guy who mourns that "Every time I get me some/It gets the best of me." But the downbeat songs on Backspacer don't get too grim — even the desperate drunk who narrates "Speed of Sound" ends up looking forward to a chance to start fresh tomorrow. Fans of Pearl Jam's chest-beating angst mode might look for some metaphorical resonance in "Amongst the Waves." Yet the more you listen, the more it just sounds like Vedder's spending a nice day surfing. After toughing out the Bush years, Pearl Jam aren't in the mood for brooding; at long last, surf's up.
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