Jamming to Pearl Jam’s new, upbeat album
Scene | Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Pearl Jam was once considered to be the most popular American rock ‘n’ roll band of the decade. Back in the early ’90s, the Seattle-based band was well known as the quintessential grunge band and part of a complex called the Seattle Sound. With such hit singles as “Alive,” “Jeremy,” “Daughter” and “Better Man,” the grungy surfers rose to critical and commercial success writing rock ‘n’ roll anthems that dealt with such heavy issues as physical abuse of children with learning disabilities, teenage suicide and abusive relationships. The alternative rock band quickly grew uncomfortable with the fame that came along with commercial success and shied away from the spotlight but continued to make exceptional records and took on an overwhelming sense of political responsibility.
Today, Pearl Jam is still well respected, however culturally irrelevant they have become, as one of the few bands with a good raw sound and minimal electronic amplification of vocals. Avid Pearl Jam fans can certainly see that the Seattle-based band has renewed that juvenile, raw, honest, rock ‘n’ roll sound, although much of the album is actually influenced by punk, New Wave and pop.
“Backspacer” finds Pearl Jam seizing the moment with President Barack Obama’s entry into the White House and moving away from bellyaching political activism. Frontman Eddie Vedder has even credited Obama’s election as inspiration for the new album’s optimistic lyrics and the shift in the direction of his songwriting towards the positive, saying in an interview with “Rolling Stone” magazine: “I’ve tried, over the years, to be hopeful in the lyrics, and I think that’s going to be easier now.” There’s no doubt that Vedder and company take carpe diem to the next level with the new LP.
The album gets rolling right off the bat with opener, “Gonna See My Friend,” a three-minute track thickly packed with rocking guitars, pounding drums and loud lead vocals in which Vedder belts out nonsensical lyrics, “I’m gonna see my friend, make it go away / I’m sick of everything.” “Got Some,” which made its debut on Conan O’Brien back in June, follows with punk-influenced electric guitar riffs, along with intense vocals and lyrics enticing the audience to get up and live their life, “Get it now, get it on, before it’s gone, let’s everybody carry on, carry on / Turn it up, set it off, before it’s gone, let’s everybody get it on, get it on.”
“The Fixer,” the first single off “Backspacer,” is a catchy rock tune clearly influenced by pop and punk alike, as the rampant use of handclaps as instrumentation during the verses demonstrates. The insightful lyrics point toward relationship issues, “When something’s broke, I wanna put a bit of fixin’ on it … / If there’s no love, I wanna try to love again,” and as Vedder commented in “The Globe and Mail,” “Men, we all think we can fix anything. It’s not necessarily a good thing … These wonderful people, the woman you’re in a relationship with, they don’t want you to fix it. They just want you to listen to what’s happening … This is a reminder song to me, to stop fixing.”
“Just Breathe” is a much slower number than the first few fast-moving punk-sounding tracks. The folk-pop ballad tackles relationship issues and has all the makings of a wedding dance song with romantic lyrics, “I wonder everyday, as I look upon your face, everything you gave.” The quiet love song sounds very similar to many of the tracks on Vedder’s 2007 soundtrack to “Into the Wild.” “Amongst the Waves” serves as another reminder that the band is back to their fun-loving surfing days with excellent rock and roll riffs, a rockin’ guitar solo, passionate vocals and image-evoking lyrics, “Love ain’t until you feel it / Up riding high amongst the waves.”
Vedder’s lead vocals throughout the album are passionate indeed and seem to want to prove that the Seattle boys are back to their surfing days, but at times, the vocals strain to such an unnecessarily loud and high-pitched level that they go from sounding endearingly juvenile and raw to simply sounding like out of tune noise. “Backspacer” certainly won’t be remembered as one of Pearl Jam’s best albums, but overall, the album is certainly a solid effort and fun to listen to.