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Pearl Jam came together in 1991 and quickly made their mark as one of the great 90s grunge bands. I was 14 at the time and the fresh new sound and emotive political lyrics struck a chord with that has lasted a life time. Before their debut album 'Ten' Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had worked together in previous bands, most acclaimed Green River. They then hooked up through friends with Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder and drummer Dave Ambruzzese. The band managed to capture the grunge scene with political and angst ridden lyrics, simple rhythm chords, heavy guitar riffs and gravelly vocals and combined it technical skill surpassing many of their peers and a 70s stadium rock feel that give them their longevity.
This album was their shortest to date. It was released in September 2009 through Pearl Jam's own record label Monkeywrench Records. Over the years their lyrics have become increasingly more introspective and less narrative than they were in the beginning. There were a few returns to form for this record. For the first time since 'Yield' Vedder wrote all the (more positive) lyrics and it was produced by Pearl Jam's staple producer Brendan O'Brien with Ament saying "He's one of the few people outside of the band that we trust with our music. Differing from their recent releases though the music showed an influence from pop and new wave.
As it debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 critical reviews showed surprise at this new upbeat Pearl Jam though for the fans this was nothing new as their live shows always show a complete unadulterated joy for their work. Q's Paul Branigan wrote "For the first time in their 19-year career, Pearl Jam actually sound - whisper it - fun" while Ann Powers of the Los Angeles' Times described the album as "accessible without sacrificing sophistication, aggressive, without failing" and The Times' Josh Tyrangiel wrote that 'Backspacer' was "Nothing revolutionary, but provides an adrenaline jolt that shouldn't be underestimated either"
The album artwork was created by editorial cartoonist Dan Perkins (pen name - Tom Tomorrow). It consists of 9 images that Perkins described as "dreams and memories", but that Gossard described as "bizarro otherworldly dreamscape". In fitting with the artwork and reflective nature of some of the tracks the album was titled 'Backspacer'.
Personnel were as follows;
Jeff Ament - Bass Guitar
Matt Cameron - Drums and percussion
Stone Gossard - Guitar
Mike McCready - Guitar
Eddie Vedder - Guitar and Vocals
- Credited as 'Jerome Turner' for the album concept
Bruce Andrus - Horn
Justin Bruns - Violin
Richard Deane - Horn
Danny Laufer - Cello
Cathy Lynn - Viola
Brendan O'Brien - Backing Vocals
Christopher Pulgram - Violin
Susan Welty - Horn
All lyrics were written by Eddie Vedder
Gonna See My Friend - Vedder
'I'm gonna shake this day
I wanna shake this day before I retire'
The main feeling from this track is one of fun, Pearl Jam really seem to be enjoying themselves. The lyrics tell the tale of going to visit a friend to stay off drugs. It is a light hearted and upbeat start to the album; very danceable with a distinct rock n' roll image to it with its formulaic composition and simple bridge. It has an instinctive rhythm that instantly becomes addictive, but the vocals lead the show, commanding the change of sections with changes in pitch, leaving the guitar to very much take the back seat. The outro builds up to a sudden climax.
Got Some - Ament
'Get in now; get it on, before it's gone
Let's everybody carry on, carry on'
The second single from the album peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200 and I love it. It's like someone took 50s rock n' roll and gave it a whole heap of testosterone. The lyrics cover the odd concept of visiting a drug dealer, where the drug he is peddling is rock n' roll. Featuring darker and more intense bass and percussion, 'Got Some' remains upbeat, but is more intense and grounded by the bass. It stands out on the first listen of the album thanks to its catchy vocals and an enticing, fast paced chorus. The verses build in tension almost to exhaustion up to the energised vocal release in the chorus. The bridge entices the listener in and prepares them for the equally thrilling second half.
The Fixer - Cameron, McCready, Gossard
'If something's old, I wanna put a bit of shine on it
When something's gone, I wanna fight to get it back again'
The first single from the album also did well; debuting at #2. The music was largely written by Cameron with Gossard and McCready providing the bridge. It was composed in D major and uses an odd time signature, starting in 5/4, switching to 6/4 for the verses and 4/4 for the chorus and bridge. Gossard said of the track "It has Matt's love of odd time ... and fun. We need that. If Pearl Jam is thinking too much, we're not very good. We're much better when we're not thinking" and "When people talk about 'pop' I think it's about a simplicity of arrangement that doesn't over complicate a good idea or a great lyric. I think 'The Fixer' is a great example." With its feel good pop aura around grunge roots this track gets my vote for best song to kick the blues. It is cheery and catching right from the intro and it is certainly its simplicity that makes it so enjoyable. Its chorus has a joyous sing-a-long quality. Behind the vocals the guitar sounds pretty chaotic, sticking with uplifting theme. My personal feel good hit of the summer.
Johnny Guitar - Cameron, Gossard
'Recently as I was waiting on a dream
She came to visit lost and lonely me'
This is another example of simplicity morphed into an enjoyable rocking and rolling romp. It's a track that whilst it doesn't have an instant hook it does grow on you and become a favourite. The inspiration for the lyrics apparently comes from a bathroom in a rehearsal space whose walls were coated in album covers. Johnny Guitar was a film released in 1954 starring Joan Crawford. It is thought to be a hidden commentary on the McCarthy 'witch hunts'. It is the vocals that give the track rhythm and form, with each vocal line starts high impact and winding down. The bridge features heavily produced vocals, but the outro sees the vocals drastically change and then disappear altogether leaving the guitar to play out.
Just Breathe - Vedder
'I'm a lucky man
To count on both hands
The ones I love'
As Vedder puts it, the second single from the album was "as close to a love song as [Pearl Jam] have ever gotten". It reveals Vedder in full hippy splendour. The lyrics are beautiful, but the folk composition and delicate acoustic melody is moving by itself; together they bring a sentimental tear to the eye. Whenever I listen to this track it just makes me want to close my eyes and let the music flow through me. Half way through these haunting notes are given strength from a string background during the bridge that remains with them until the end and the bass comes in to stop the whole track becoming too flighty. It peaked at #5 on the Billboard Rock Charts and has since appeared on several TV shows including 'Castle', 'One Tree Hill' and 'Brothers and Sisters'.
Amongst the Waves - Gossard
'If not for love, I would be drowning
I've seen it work both ways'
The third single's gentle start and comforting vocals have a confidently happy air, but can appear quite dull. It lacks the vulnerable honesty of 'Just Breathe' or the raw power of 'Got Some'. There is a typically spell binding guitar solo from McCready and promising introduction and outro, but doesn't go anywhere in the middle. What wants to be a triumphant and rousing chorus ends up sounding tired.
Unthought Known - Vedder
'Look for love in evidence
That you're worth keeping'
This emotional piece about the human psyche has an ominous and tense start with single guitar notes and reserved vocals. As they become stronger, the rest on the band come in layers with the bass keeping pace. They keep a delicate quality even when they gain intensity and volume. This creates a pattern of soft movement into emotional excess, creating emphasis by placing stripped down sections next to the bold. The piano backed bridge lends a 'grown up' quality to what would otherwise be a more basic grunge rock track.
Supersonic - Gossard
'Supersonic, truth be told
I wanna live my life with the volume full, yeah ...'
Along the same 'feel good' vein as 'Got Some' this song about love for music is fun, very reminiscent of retro rock n' roll (mainly from the vocal and guitar rhythms) and most of all, instantly recognisable as one of Gossard's songs (some of the chord changes are very reminiscent of 'Mankind' from Riot Act).
Speed of Sound - Vedder
'Yesterdays, how quick they change
All lost and long gone now'
This is a song about sitting in a bar after everyone else has left. It is sad, but gains confidence when played live. The studio version, however, lacks drive and the plodding percussion keeps everything slowed down. It is a slow and drifting track with an ominous, yet delicate opening. It does well capturing the melancholy and despondency, but perhaps it is a little too despondent sat between the more spirited 'Supersonic' and 'Force of Nature'.
Force of Nature - McCready
'Is it so wrong to think that
Love can keep us safe?'
Vedder said of this track "[It's] about the strength of one person in the relationship, when they can withstand the faults in another". Far from being one of their most outstanding tracks, this song sits quietly in the background, but it does have some nice touches. It opens with a haunting open snare and the lone lead guitar wailing in the midst of grinding bass and rhythm guitars. To begin with I felt it was a little too kitsch for my Pearl Jam tastes, but it is another grower. The vocal melody ends up catchy with an enjoyable old fashioned rhythm and blues element.
The End - Vedder
'Help me see myself
Cause I can no longer tell'
This is an aching love song. It's not adolescent puppy love or emo rejected love, but a deep and needful thing. The vocals plead cushioned only by the horns and strings and lead on by the guitar, which is itself a gentle acoustic guitar melody. The vocals are fragile and delicate, losing their strength and breaking in places which actually adds emphasis to the aching loneliness and almost desperate beauty that envelopes the listener. It's one of those rare songs that actually seems to hit the spot both lyrically and musically.
== Pearl Jam - Backspacer ==
Pearl Jam are in my opinion one of the best bands around and have been for over 20 years , Backspacer is their 9th studio album and was released in September 2009 .
The music on the album, which is the shortest of the band's album releases features a sound influenced by pop and New Wave. The lyrics have a more optimistic look than the ones in the politic-infused predecessors Riot Act and Pearl Jam, which makes for a more fun pop-rock album .
Pearl Jam are
Jeff Ament - bass
Matt Cameron - drums
Stone Gossard - guitar
Mike Mccready - guitar
Eddie 'gorgeous' Vedder - guitar and vocals
== The Album ==
The nice thing about buying a physical album is the artwork included , and this one is no exception . The album comes with a lovely booklet full of pictures by artist Dan Perkins, who goes by the pen name Tom Tomorrow. It also contains the lyrics to all the songs which pleased my neighbours i'm sure ! There are 11 tracks on the album
1. Gonna See My Friend 2.48
A fast paced classic Pearl jam classic , sort and sweet with catchy chorus.
2. Got Some 3.02
Another great fast paced punchy song will have you singing ' got some , got some , got some if you need it within a couple of listens I particularly love the lyric ' precipitation, which side are you on ?' and do feel the need to sing that bit louder for some reason .
3. The Fixer 2.57
This was the 1st single to be released from this album and is a melodic , upbeat song with a positive message, which is refreshing to hear .
4. Johnny Guitar 2.50
A song reminiscent of the Yield album days. Carries through the energy of the album .
5. Just Breathe 3.35
A beautiful song, starting with Eddie's vocals and acoustic guitar ,building with drum and bass. With it's poignant lyrics and the tone of Eddie's voice make this a stand out on the album , so simple yet so beautiful
6. Amongst The Wave 3.58
A song going back to their 1st album Ten. An uplifting track with classic guitar playing from Mike Mccready.
7. Unthought Known 4.08
In my opinion this is the best song on the album and probably one of my favourite Pearl Jam songs . It has everything you need , it's beautiful whilst still rocking . It takes you with it as it builds into the chorus . Cracking guitars and drums this song has it all . 'See the path cut by the moon ..for you to walk on , another get lyric from Vedder .
8. Supersonic 2.40
Another fast pace catchy rock song typical of Pearl Jam and why not they do it so well . Short and sweet will have you jumping on your feet .
9. Speed Of Sound 3.34
A slower more melancholy song but with positive vibes.
10. Force Of Nature 4.04
Another great track , again it's got it all . The verse builds into a great chorus , with catchy lyrics, plenty of guitars .
11. The End 2.57
The album ends with a slow emotional song The End , thanks to its painfully honest depiction of romantic dissolution , probably my least favourite on the album , not because it's a bad song , just my personal preference .
Altogether this is a great album, catchy lyrics, great guitar riffs, and the gorgeous Eddie Vedder . It isn't my favourite Pearl Jam album , but then I would find it hard to pick which one is my favourite , as I love them all .
Due to being a more light hearted rock I think this makes a great summer album and its a perfect album for the car and the lyrical content is suitable to be played around children .
In fact it should be played to children to remind them what a real band is about , real musicians, writing, playing and recording their own music , not this manufactured rubbish they listen to these days .
== Conclusion ==
Pearl Jam are still rocking in the free world and I hope they continue to do so .
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Gonna See My Friend
2 Got Some
3 The Fixer
4 Johnny Guitar
5 Just Breathe
6 Amongst The Wave
7 Unthought Known
9 Speed Of Sound
10 Force Of Nature
11 The End