Pearl Jam

Monkeywrench Records, 2009

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


The end of 2009 is upon us, and the past few weeks have seen the usual outcropping of “Best Of” lists from every music-related publication known to man. If one were to scan through them, there would be a few picks that make their way into the majority, but it's the variety that I've found the most interesting. Anyone can pick the Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion as the pinnacle of the year (an opinion I most definitely DO NOT share). But it's the record that makes it to a number six or get placed in the honorable mention that intrigues me the most, for this is usually where the particular tastes and true feelings of the record come out.

So while this year did not see me attempt to make up my personal list of the year’s best, that doesn't mean I wasn’t giving consideration throughout the last twelve months to the albums that I might end up using by the end up December. It took until September, but by then I had found my sixth record in the latest from Pearl Jam.

This was an interesting disc on a few levels; first of which is the fact that up until this point, this reviewer had never listened to a Pearl Jam record from start to finish. Call it ambivalence, call it a natural distaste for the grunge genre in which Pearl Jam cut their teeth, but they held no interest for me. So what exactly prompted the purchase of Backspacer is a mystery even to myself, but having listened to it for the past few months, it is a welcome enigma.

It sounds trite, but pulling off great rock and roll with no accoutrements or unnecessary flourishes is a beautiful thing, and apparently very hard to do in the modern day. While the appeal of new chamber rock groups such as Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes is understandable, they do not satisfy our baser desires and urges – that is, to be driving down the freeway in your car with the windows down, screaming out the words to a song at 75 mph because, really, that's the only thing in the world you want to do at that moment. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Backspacer satisfies that human component of rock in spades, succeeding in managing to turn the cynical eye of a non-Pearl Jam fan towards them in a positive light. Producer Brendan O'Brien worked with the group on their legendary Ten record, and his familiarity with the best and worst of the band pays off big time. Eddie Vedder has been labeled a somewhat puzzling figure, but quite frankly, it doesn't matter on Backspacer: the man simply delivers through sheer force of personality alone. The emotion and dedication with which Vedder performs puts to shame many a modern day, soulless, rock personality (David Cook, I'm looking at you).

It would be easy to just label Backspacer a success based solely on its intangibles, but that would take away from the work the group put into writing strong songs. Whenever I read a critic discussing a strong record or a strong piece of work, it can be maddening, because what does that actually mean? Isn't it just a cliché used so that the critic doesn't have to write as much? The answer to each question is 1. No Idea and 2. Yes.  So, allow me a moment of your time in order to investigate my theory of a strong song/album (and for the hell of it, I'll use songs from Backspacer).

There are songs that one listens to that fade away immediately after the last note is struck. Then there are songs that manage to remain buried deep in your psyche, coming out 6 ½ months later randomly while you sit in the dentist’s office waiting for a root canal (“Gonna See My Friend”). Then, you might have a selection of songs that build up a reputation because of their usage in the media. I will admit, half of this equation is money from the labels, but even so, there is a reason certain songs are played on television and others are not (“Unthought Known”). The 3/4ths song can't be overlooked (“Supersonic”); this is the song that revives your interest in a record that you were just about to lose interest in, and it carries you through all the way until the end.

Delving deeper isn't necessary at this point; suffice it to say that there is some legitimate context when I use the term “strong” songs. Were one to look at the top 20 pop songs in the nation right now, I wouldn't doubt that on a listen, many of us would label one tune or the other as “catchy.” But how many of those top 20 songs will we remember in a month, or two? How many of them will slip into obscurity, simply because they were a passing moment in time, instead of a lasting one. Backspacer is stocked top to bottom with songs that have the ability to live on into 2010 and beyond. I realize it's selfish to say, but I wish more people had seen that this year.

Rating: A-

User Rating: C+



© 2009 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Monkeywrench Records, and is used for informational purposes only.