Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pearl Jam is ... Backspacer!

I am one of the world's biggest Pearl Jam fans and have been since I first heard them back in 1992. I used to wait until my parents would leave me home alone, crank up my dad's soundsystem to "11" and play air guitar all day. I'd scream out Ed Vedder's vocals like my life depended on it. About the only thing I couldn't do was stage dive and crowd surf.

Since '92, Pearl Jam has released 8 other albums, showing a remarkable amount of growth for a band that was initially pigeon-holed as a "grunge" act. I'm just as much in love with 1995's "Yield" as I am with "Ten." And while "Riot Act" wasn't their best record, it was filled with a few gems like "I Am Mine," "Love Boat Captain" and "Save You."

In 2006, they released their eponymous album, "Pearl Jam," which was an amazing release. Now, this year they have put together one of the finest efforts of their storied career.


Clocking in around 37 minutes, "Backspacer" is a fun record full of terrific tunes. It doesn't break any new ground for the band, but it certainly expands upon what they've accomplished. The opening three tracks ("Gonna See My Friend," "Got Some," and "The Fixer") are blistering and rousing -- modern anthems for generation X. And songs like "Just Breathe," "Amongst the Waves," and "Unthought Known" are among their best ballads. Especially the heartbreaking "Just Breathe," which may be the first traditional "love" song on a Pearl Jam record. Lyrics like, "Did I say that I need you/ Did I say that I want you/ Oh, if I didn't, now I'm a fool you see," provide a mature outlook on relationships revealing Vedder's vulnerability and sincerity.

Despite the fun and games this album represents in the vast PJ catalog, it does have some significant undertones, lyrically speaking. The song cycle seems to be very interested in death and the limited resource that is our time here on Earth. "Gonna take me an astral plane/ I'm gonna tunnel through denial/ I'm gonna shake this thing/ I wanna shake this pain 'fore I retire," Vedder wails on the opening track. And he concludes with a final track simply called, "The End."

Buy this record. If you buy it at Target, you can get the Rock Band version, which not only comes with the entire record ready for download onto the video game, it also offers two downloads of complete concerts from their 2006 world tour. As usual, PJ is the most fan-friendly band on the planet. I'm so happy they're back!

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