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Rockin' Our Turntable: Pearl Jam

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 22, 2009 7:00PM

2009_09_pearl_jam_backspacer.jpg We have yet to actually dislike a Pearl Jam album but admit it's been a long time since we were thrilled by one. Something seemed to have infected Eddie Vedder after the band's loose Mirror Ball / Merkin Ball collaborations with Neil Young. It was almost as if he was afraid to let any joy enter the music any more for fear his icon would disapprove. Vedder's vocals ceased to jump, and most songs fall into one of two categories; they were either raging screams of anger and despair or they were quiet ballads that barely moved beyond a handful of notes. There were deviations form these formulas, but the majority of the band's middle work fits those categories.

Maybe it was the election of Barack Obama. Maybe it was the release of the band from any major label ties. Maybe it was the various solo detours that allowed the group to regain their fire. Whatever the reason, in 37 minutes their new album Backspacer shakes off the cobwebs of the past decade plus and fires condensed blasts of sound that could have been created by the band before Ten's release. The first three songs in particular are remarkable as they jettison past you and circle back around to entrance you. Vedder's voice trips upward and downwards and that delectable rasp when he hits the limits of his range is back. His voice sounds joyful, and it's obvious he's enjoying the delivery of each and every line.

And here is why we think the album is so much fun to listen to. Pearl Jam has always been a democracy. Sure, its votes may have been weighted one way or another at times, but musically their songs tend to be pretty musically consistent at their base due to the fact that everyone has a say, and everyone pitches in. It's Vedder's delivery that decides whether the songs are allowed to sink or soar, and over the last few albums most of what Vedder had to say and the way he delivered it was kind of a bummer. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Certainly not. But it does explain why the mainstream moved farther from the group and their hardcore fans moved closer. Face it, Vedder's lyrics have always been kind of a bummer, right? But the reason the original trio of albums the band released did so well is because those bummer messages were delivered in a hopeful voice borne by surging songs. And that's where we're at again.

Is Backspacer a Ten redux? Hell no, and if it was it'd be boring as hell. What Backspacer does do is show a band who has found their way again and seems to enjoy making music for its own sake instead of worrying how to fit it around this or that weighty statement. It's a band high off its own power again, and they're lifting the rest of us along with them.