Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pearl Jam's Backspacer

It took me a month to digest it, to make sure I wasn't making a terrible judgment, a month of listening to it almost every day (and many times in a row each time).

It's a damn good record, probably their best one in a decade.

Pearl Jam usually start their records (and their live sets) with a slow song, but I guess they were in a hurry to get this one started, as Gonna See My Friend is a relatively fast-paced garage-rocker, smarter and groovier than Vitalogy's Spin The Black Circle, on par with Yield's Brain Of J. 7.5/10

Then they get into Get Some, a song they premiered on the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien a few months ago. The album version (the mix between instruments, probably) sounds way better than the broadcast version; the guitars aren't always present and belong in the background, and NBC didn't seem to understand that, so they put them up front rather than give thema supporting role. The bass, drums and vocals should have top billing here, and they do on the CD. 8/10

The Fixer was the record's leading sigle and video (yes! they made an actual video, where they perform the song!) - not my choice as best track on the record, not even close, not even the rocking-est track on it either. But it follows the long line of PJ first singles that are made to make people not want to buy the record... but not a bad song in any way either. 7.5/10

Johnny Guitar just might be the best song on the record - the one that, years from now, will not have gotten on anyone's nerves and retain its listenability. Its premise is relatively easy - and only delivers half the story it tells, that of one girl hanging with Johnny Guitar Watson. It has (much appreciated) accents of new wave - think Elvis Costello, The Cars, The Knack... Original. And the lyrics really get to me - perfect for this summer. 9/10

Just Breathe seem staken straight from Eddie Vedder's Into The Wild soundtrack, a slow song with clear and pretty picking and no band members playing on it... 8/10

And now... Amongst The Waves. When I first saw the track list for the record, 6 months ago, way before the release of the album, I immediately thought to myself ''oh, fuck, no, not another song about the fucking ocean''. I'm all for preserving the waters, all for making music about it, but Vedder has a tendency to write his most boring songs when referring to his #1 passion - surfing. The worst of these 'water' songs has got to be Big Wave - what a waste of a riff. Well, I'm glad to say this one isn't a total failure, despite cheesy, uninspired lyrics that start the song (''what used to be a house of cards / has turned into a reservoir''). Not so bad, though, but amongst the two worst tracks of the record, despite Vedder's voice being in fine form. 6.5/10

Unthought Known sounds like a tribute to the Yield record: it starts off sounding like Wishlist and evolves into Given To Fly - improving on both at the same time. Maybe now we can have this one during live shows instead of the other two - and get an extra song to pump our fists to. 9/10

Supersonic brings me back to Mankind, the Stone Gossard-penned-and-sung track I didn't like from No Code. Except that now, I don't mind it so much. 7/10

Speed Of Sound is another one I was scared of by the title alone - would it be a cover of Coldplay's boring epic, or even just in the same vein? It starts off with keys, so that's not a good sign. At least it builds a bit to the first chorus, but then it lets you down again with a complete break before the verse starts again - and you're reminded that it isn't over yet. ''Waiting on a word that never comes'', Vedder sings. You know what? I'll wait for it in the next song. 5/10

Force Of Nature sounds like a 70s throwback, mixed with subdued new wave effects, but Vedder's delivery transcends it - despite ''one man stands at the edge of the ocean'' and other nature-and-water-inspired themes. 7/10

The End - not a cover of the Jim Morrison epic about incest and death. The third slow song on the record, the most original of all - with a strings section, a plaintive vocal melody, typical Vedder lyrics (without the water theme) - and it ends, fittingly, with the cryptic words ''I'm here, but not for much longer'', leaving you to wonder if it's the band's (long rumoured) farewell, or just a break before the next release. 8/10

I don't know if you're a math genius, that that makes a total of 11 songs, clocking in barly over a half hour, with an average rating of 7.5...

But Pearl Jam being Pearl Jam, that's nowhere close to the grade I give this record: 8.5. All the songs fit with one another, they mesh into each other so well, and the overall result is greater than the sum of its parts.

Backspacer fits right up there in the band's Top 5 records:

1. No Code
2. Vs
3. Yield
4. Ten (Redux)
5. Backspacer

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