Pearl Jam Backspacer Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

It’s great to hear these troubled souls finally having a blast.

Andrzej Lukowski 2009

Though you shouldn’t feel too sorry for a bunch of multimillionaires who’ve enjoyed a long career characterised by their doing more or less whatever they want, it should still be noted, by-the-by, that Pearl Jam are an absurdly misunderstood band. It’s true that mega-selling debut Ten was pomp-rock anthems agogo, but the fact that they were still pegged as classicist bores over a decade later flies directly in the face of such aggressively challenging outings as Vs, Vitalogy and Riot Act.

There’s no one obvious explanation for why Pearl Jam have finally achieved a measure of hipness as they arrive at ninth album Backspacer. Distance from the baggage of grunge, a dearth of quality peers, Eddie Vedder’s well-received Into the Wild soundtrack, a generation of rock critics that grew up with their 90s releases: these may or may not be factors. Whatever the case, the irony is that Pearl Jam find themselves in vogue just as they release their most musically conservative record since Ten.

Fortunately it’s also their most fun one. A usually confrontational, angst-ridden band, you’d be seriously pushing it to say Pearl Jam have ever really written an honest-to-God pop song before. Backspacer comfortably contains at least four killer examples, with the one-two-three of Got Some, The Fixer and Johnny Guitar easily the most nakedly exhilarating passage on any of their records. Fast, lean, melodic and hooky, they tread a nice line between new wave tautness (Joe Jackson and Buzzcocks would be solid reference points), the more flippant moments of their old idols The Who, and points that come surprisingly close to reprising the old fashioned teen pop they mined ten years ago with cover Last Kiss.

Backspacer is neither the perfect pop record, nor the perfect Pearl Jam album; its biggest problem is that, shorn of the intensity of yore, the slow songs tend not to hit home that hard. But for the most part pedal is put firmly and thrillingly to metal, and it’s truly great to hear these troubled souls finally having such a blast.

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