An uneven record with something for almost anyone, and some filler too...
Pearl Jam's Backspacer album comes three years after their self-titled album Pearl Jam. That comes fout years after Riot Act, which is after Binaural... I have no idea why they waited almost 20 years to get to their self-titled album, but they did. Backspacer is the follow-up. Pearl Jam ditches the political tone in Pearl Jam and goes for a mostly personal tone in Backspacer, which is either good or bad depending on how you liked the 2006 album overall.
I like Backspacer. I like it a lot. This record, though, is kind of an uneven album. I really don't know how else to put it. There are some strong songs, a couple of which are arguably the strongest since either Vitalogy or Yield. Eddie Vedder couldn't resist the urge to let the Into the Wild soundtrack and Neil Young influences get a hold of him, dragging the group from what it does best to what he thinks he does best. I think the influences lead to mixed results, with a song that really doesn't mean too much in the scope of the record, and a completely epic masterpiece song that's placed perfectly in the middle of the record.
This record is not a long one. 36 minutes and 59 seconds. 36:59. That is not a long record. However, some of this time is wasted. So if a few songs feel like filler, and the record altogether isn't even 40 minutes, how is the record a winner? In some ways, it's not. In some ways, it's the strongest record they've made since the turn of the millennium. The technical musicianship on Backspacer at times ranges from messy to nothing short of amazing. Yes, the range on this album is truly amazing, and accomplishes it all in less than 40 minutes. Maybe it's because I am used to records that go an hour or more, or close to an hour, but the length does bother me.
Backspacer begins with "Gonna See My Friend", which is a pretty catchy tune. Vedder goes from morose in his delivery to trying to find the angst that moved him back in the early 90's. Drummer Matt Cameron hits everything here, jiving with guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready perfectly. Bassist Jeff Ament doesn't really seem to be heard on this song all too well, but it's not really noticeable. I do love Eddie yelling "Gonna See My Friend!" in the middle of the somg.
The craftsmanship moves right into "Got Some", which in my opinion is the best song on the album. I'm not sure why, but this seems like the strongest song to me. The guitar is awesome, a rock song in the truest sense of the term. This song's a must-listen to me.
"The Fixer", however, is the opposite. It's the song that the initial Backspacer ad campaign was built around. Well, what there was of the ad campaign, anyways. The song's OK, but it should not have been the first single in my opinion. There is a catchy hook in the song, but "Got Some" is stronger to me. This seems like a song that should have either started the album out, or have been towards the end of the album. I think that not being the #1 track on the record or being the last would have helped it greatly.
The following track, "Johnny Guitar" seems to peer a bit into a crush that Vedder may have had at an earlier time in his life. The bassist shines early in this one I think even if the early hook is guitar-centric. Solid tune here I think. Not the best, definitely not the worst.
"Just Breathe" is the epic masterpiece I referred to earlier. This song belongs on a Neil Young record and/or the Into the Wild soundtrack. The acoustic guitar is a powerful intrument, maybe more powerful than the electric guitar. Sure, the electric makes more noise, but one has to listen to the acoustic guitar. The advantage of an acoustic guitar in the middle of an electric-based record is that the listener gets a nice contrast, and also has to listen to the song closer than they would another electric-guitar-based song. This is achieved perfectly with "Just Breathe" as the number five track. Light on the tambourine, no drums to speak of, and Eddie's soul bared out to the world. A beautiful song about death... who would have thought.
This is followed by "Amongst the Waves", which is solid if unspectacular. I've heard this song on terrestrial radio within the past week, so it'd seem that this song is the new single. I don't see it. It's an OK song, but it doesn't have the hook that a single should have I think, and the song doesn't ever seem to get out of first gear no matter what part of the near-four-minute song you're listening to.
"Unthought Known" follows "Amongst the Waves", and it features some decent piano and some good guitar and drum action too. It's a good song, not nearly on the level of the first half of the record, but it's good. The song starts off slow, gets heavier and rises to a crescendo, then slows back down and goes to another heavy point. I am not sure if I'm a big fan of this type of song, one that goes from slower to faster throughout the course of the whole song, but if you like change in your songs like that whole keeping the basic melody the same, then you should like "Unthought Known".
"Supersonic" sounds like it belongs on the first half of the Backspacer record. It doesn't really fit with the second half of this record. It's adrenaline-fueled, non-stop drums and guitar, and Eddie keeps right up, sounding like he's at the hottest party in town. He sounds genuinely happy in this song, which isn't something that you can say about the past previous few songs. He really shines here. Also, this song introduces what I believe is the only curse word on Backspacer. It's the s-word for those keeping track.
"Speed of Sound" follows it, and is a decidedly slower song than "Supersonic", and takes a way more somber tome than it as well. After getting pumped up by "Supersonic", I did not like this song. On its' own, I like the song OK I suppose, but I definitely like the song that came before it way better.
"Force of Nature" is next, and seems to be a mash of the two songs before it. It's faster than "Speed of Sound" but not nearly as fast as "Supersonic". It does retain some intensity in the form of the guitar's constant same-old-same-old riff, but overall I think this song's lacking something. Eddie sounds moticated here, the guitar's good, the bass isn't really represented here but it's a common theme throughout the record, and the drummer is solid. Still, this and a few other songs here feel like total filler.
The end of Backspacer is marked by the final track, the appropriately named "The End". I do not like this song one bit. In my opinion, and I am the one writing this review, the less said about this song the better.
This album is kind of a cluster of awesome songwriting with carelessness, stuffed into a blender with "Puree" set, and hoping for the best. Some of the songs, particularly the first five tracks of the album and "Supersonic" are great. "Just Breathe" in particular, if you liked the Into the Wild soundtrack, is awesome. Some of the songs, such as "Speed of Sound", "The End" and "Unthought Known" feel like complete filler and a waste of time.
All of this said, Backspacer gets my overall recommendation. This recor, while uneven, still has strong enough songs to earn my recommendation. I love Pearl Jam, they're my favorite band ever, and to say some bad things about an album of theirs kind of hurts a little bit, but it's the truth. It gets an overall recommendation from me, but it's not without faults.