When I hear the name "Pearl Jam" the image evoked is that of a lonely-but-determined protester standing on the outskirts of some immovable, unnamed, oppressive musical entity. Yet a decade on from the era that the Seattle-based band helped to pioneer, Pearl Jam is not only one of the few bands still standing, but they also belong to that tragically elitist society of bands circa 1990 who haven't lost band members to overdoses or cowered into hiatus when that unnamed entity cast its shadow over the grunge scene at the start of the millennium. With that shadow well past and rock music rising high above the ashes it reduced itself to, it comes as no surprise that Pearl Jam is right out in front with their ironically named album Backspacer
The name is ironic because if Pearl Jam isn't standing still, then they'd have to be moving forward. That might seem strange considering how the band's ten-year transition to the independent scene looked a little more like the self-destruction of their commercial success than they probably intended, but even a haphazard once-through of Backspacer
insists that the band has been making progress since their fall from musical grace.
The lyrics, to start with, once more mirror the music, with only the finer points of grunge's melancholy left in tact. But the musical structure and production are even more noteworthy. For the first time since No Yield
, Pearl Jam seems to have found comfort and balance in both styles, launching the band out of the world of post-grunge puberty and into the confidence and clarity they once commanded (except for the vocals, of course). Throw in snippets of orchestration and the occasional societal commentary, and we finally end up with music we probably never expected from these guys, but probably should have.
In a way, Backspacer
can be seen as a sort of resurrection if we can all only get past the fact that Pearl Jam is no longer a grunge rock band, but just a band, hell-bent on lending a background of mammoth commercial fame during an indescribably unstable era to the advancement of independent music. And despite what comical images may be conjured by the name, they most certainly are not alone. They may, however, be stepping out to lead the way as they once did what seems so many years ago.-josh cacopardo
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MP3: Pearl Jam - "Got Some" (Backspacer)
Pearl Jam on Myspace