Music Review: Pearl Jam’s “Backspacer”

Originally posted 2009-09-21 22:41:46. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

This most recent Pearl Jam release is aptly titled; in many ways, Backspacer is closer in focus and energy to Ten than any of their more recent efforts.

Most reviews have wasted little time in pointing out that this album holds the band’s record for brevity — 37 minutes from the first guitar strum to the final vocal fade.  This can, of course, be interpreted in one of two ways, the worst case scenario being that the album was hurriedly prepared and produced.

This could not be further from the truth.

Backspacer is a strong, purposeful album comprised of eleven very upbeat, very direct tracks that leave little room for the listener to catch his breath over the record’s half hour span.  For the most part, these tight, three minute tracks are energizing and satisfying, catchier and cooler than anything Eddie Vedder and company have turned out in a long time.

This is, of course, a mixed bag.  After all, short, to-the-point pop rock is fun when done properly — which, by the way, it certainly is here.  Still, the electric soundscapes of 2000’s Binaural and the distortion-drenched protest of 2002’s Riot Act were excellent installments in the Pearl Jam catalog, even if their respective values have been minimized by critics who seemed more concerned with comparing them to early releases like Ten and Vs.

It should be noted that 2006’s Pearl Jam lacked cohesiveness as an album, although several songs on that release are among the best of their career (“World Wide Suicide” or “Marker in the Sand,” anyone?).  This eponymous release is an album of wild energy and abandon, which works particularly well in the first half of the track listing.  That being said, Vedder rips his vocal chords to shreds in his effort to sing without holding any emotion or effort in reserve.  This works well in some places, and yet crackles to pieces in others.

Pearl Jam's "Backspacer" (2009)

On Backspacer, Vedder has somehow been able to amp up his emotions and energy, and yet his vocals stand out as some of the best of any Pearl Jam recording to date.  Some songs, like the opener “Gonna See My Friend,” harken back to the roughly shouted vocals of Pearl Jam.  Most, however, feature Vedder at his best.

The opening track is also notable for a strumming pattern that is evocative of some mid-1950s Chuck Berry-esque riffing — with a decidedly grunge rock twist to it, of course.  “Gonna See My Friend” is a catchy track but certainly does not stand out among the other excellent album starters of their career.

From the first millisecond of “Got Some,” there is suddenly evidence that this might be an excellent album.  Jeff Ament’s collaboration with Vedder is a nice addition to the other outstanding Ament contributions — think: “God’s Dice,” “Ghost,” and “Low Light;”  if you’re really kind, forget “Pilate.”  The best part of “Got Some” is that, by the time it has finished, you haven’t even heard the single yet.

“The Fixer” comes next, a tour-de-force taken on very convincingly by Vedder.  I have vacillated about three or four times a day since I picked up the album on Sunday, and I’m still not certain whether I like “Got Some” or “The Fixer” better.  I suppose I’ll just have to keep listening…

As the album continues, there are other rockers performed at breakneck speed (“Johnny Guitar,” “Supersonic”), as well as considerably slower, more instrospective numbers (“Just Breathe,” “The End”).  These latter tracks were clearly influenced by Vedder’s recent solo project, writing and recording the soundtrack for the Sean Penn film Into the Wild.  The fingerpicking patterns that open these songs are reminiscent of his solo tracks, yet these songs clearly show the progress Vedder has made in such a short time, particularly in terms of structure.

For once, I am forced to agree with Rolling Stone‘s assessment of this album.  Their four star rating is a simple means of stating that Backspacer is an excellent album, but not a masterpiece.  From track 6 to “The End,” the album takes some repeated listening to really be appreciated.  At first, I felt that some of these tracks were too tight and traditional to ever truly stand out.  As I’ve listened, more and more of these songs have stood out, like the soaring “Amongst the Waves” and the excellent “Speed of Sound” (listen to Vedder’s vocals in the first few lines as he momentarily invokes Leonard Cohen).

Backspacer may not be the next Ten, but it is silly to even entertain that desire.  (If you read music reviews in the major magazines, you wouldn’t know it though!)  What this release does offer is an energetic, cohesive Pearl Jam album — and that, for me, has always been more than enough.

Pearl Jam Set List – May 15, 2010 – Live at the XL Center, Hartford, CT

Originally posted 2010-05-16 00:44:49. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Click HERE for the complete concert review!

By Chris Moore:

PHENOMENAL show.  The link to the full review is above — enjoy!

Pearl Jam Set List: Saturday, 5/15/2010

1. Unthought Known
2. Corduroy
3. Do the Evolution
4. Got Some
5. Severed Hand
6. Dissident
7. Low Light
8. Amongst the Waves
9. Even Flow
10. Nothingman
11. Johnny Guitar
12. I Got Id
13. Jeremy
14. Daughter
15. Satan’s Bed
16. Lukin’
17. Gonna See My Friend

18. Just Breathe
19. Speed of Sound
20. State of Love Trust
21. Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love
22. Porch

23. The Fixer
24. Crazy Mary
25. Alive
26. Indifference
27. All Along the Watchtower

Pearl Jam’s “Ten” (1991, 2009 Remix Deluxe Edition) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-03-28 20:15:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  5 / 5 stars

If I were to post a one-sentence review of this album, it would read something like this:

“Pearl Jam’s Ten is the Pet Sounds of the grunge rock genre.”

I do not take such a comparison lightly, so let me begin by explaining my reasoning in detail.  In both cases, the general public took some time to warm up to the songs, but they have both ended up making regular appearances on “Best Albums” lists, both of the decade and of all-time.  In both cases, the songs and the image projected via artwork and touring would define the band for years to come.  Finally, in both cases, the album stands out as head and shoulders above and beyond other similar work being released at the same time from the same genres.

While Pet Sounds was the Beach Boys’ eleventh release and arguably more of a Brian Wilson solo album, Ten was Pearl Jam’s debut album, their very first studio release, and as much of a group effort as any rock album ever recorded.  Of course, the former came at a turning point — it perhaps caused or at least contributed to that turning point — for rock/pop music in the sixties.  Virtually every album that came after can be traced in some way back to that foundation.

In that sense, I do not mean to overstate Ten‘s importance by comparison.

Still, though its influence cannot compare, Pearl Jam somehow managed — and in their debut, no less — to compose and record as strong a set of songs as any being released during the early nineties and certainly from the grunge scene.  From fade in to fade out, Ten demonstrates a simultaneous command of subtlety, beauty, and gripping lyrical content, while also delving into raw, reckless abandon in a manner that is not sloppy yet not too controlled.

Almost two decades later, it is one of the cornerstone albums of the nineties and of rock music as a whole.

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991, 2009 remix)

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991, 2009 remix)

As the cover suggests, Pearl Jam decided from the very beginning to be an “all for one, one for all” sort of group.  Outside of their revolving door of a drummer’s seat in the first decade, they have followed through on the promise implicit in that pose.

And this is what makes the individual tracks so strong for a first release.  As the various band members have stated in interviews over the years, many of these songs began life as Stone Gossard/Jeff Ament band jams, riffs and solos that were worked on and written, refined, and improved over a period of time.  When Eddie Vedder was brought in, he carried with him a new sense of lyricism and a unique voice that brought these instrumentals to life.  To this day, the issues and emotions expressed on Ten make for very compelling listening.

Critical opinions on Ten vary widely, though that difference has most often been the distance between five and four stars, or an A and a B-.  Most reviews have been positive, at least to some extent, but I find it difficult to understand any rating that falls short of recognizing the outstanding fusion of classic and modern rock, energetic performances and purposeful recording studio techniques, standout songs and an overall cohesive sound and voice that define this album.

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991)

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991)

Any great tale should begin with “Once upon a time…,” and Ten does.  It’s clear from the opening that this is no fairy tale, and “Once” sets the tone for the other songs to follow.  (Taken in a different context, “Once” has also been situated as the second in a three track series known as Mamasan, or Momma-son.  This three song cycle follows the story of “Alive” into the murderous “Once” and concludes with what has been read as an execution in “Footsteps.”)

“Even Flow” and “Alive” follow on Ten, unfolding one powerful, catchy riff after another, all driven by Vedder’s vocals.  These are the songs that you wish you could play along to, and the songs that you try to sing to.

Even the by-comparison mediocre tracks shine, like “Why Go” with its driving beat, shouted chorus, and manic guitar solo.

It’s forgotten, though, by the time the next track unfolds.  “Black” is a true masterpiece: put your headphones on for this one and listen for the way the instruments all play an intricate part, and yet how all the components gel around Vedder’s magnificent lead, made most impressive by what can only be called his vocal solo on the outro.

Next comes “Jeremy,” based on the true story of a boy who was bullied to the point of desperation, bringing a gun to school one day to shoot himself in front of his classmates.  The refrain “Jeremy spoke in class today” gains more poignancy as the song continues.

The second half of the album nicely mixes the tempo and tenor of tracks.  There are the slower, more melancholy tracks like “Oceans” and “Release.”  There is the declaration of independence and survival that is “Garden.”  Then there the rockers like “Deep” and its even more well-constructed, entertaining counterpart, the Vedder-penned “Porch.”

The outtakes from this period and the Ten recording sessions are nothing short of phenomenal.  Ament reportedly considered leaving the band when Gossard grew tired of “Brother,” a gem that went unreleased until 2009’s remix.  Even better is the live standard “Yellow Ledbetter,” a masterpiece in its own right.  While I understand the decision to leave “State of Love and Trust,” “Wash,” and the aforementioned “Footsteps” off the record, I am thrilled to have them as outtakes.  These are all songs that I look forward to, and they certainly transcend the typically forgettable bonus track fare.

From front to back, Ten is not only the strongest album in Pearl Jam’s considerable catalog — and this is saying something — but it is one of the best rock albums of all time.  The balance that was struck here between interesting musical compositions and engaging vocal performances set a bar few albums since have been able to rise to.  This is an album that deserved a reissue, and the deluxe edition (2 CD/1 DVD combo) was no doubt the best, most affordable deal of the four options.  The packaging included a hard case with a scrapbook style booklet, a disc with the album as originally mixed, a second disc with the remixed tracks and six bonus tracks, and a DVD of the MTV Unplugged concert that Pearl Jam performed in 1992.  This performance alone was worth the price of the album, and seeing Vedder, Ament, Gossard, Mike McCready, and Dave Abbruzzese was a clear reminder that these were different times: the grunge look has since gone out of style, but viewing this DVD provides an opportunity to see them in their early prime, each band member smiling at various moments in different songs, celebrating the outstanding music that they had written in brand-new acoustic arrangements.

(On this, the nineteen anniversary since the recording sessions began, the Weekend Review tips its hat to Ten and encourages you to squeeze in a listen very soon!)

“Thin Air” by Pearl Jam – Chords, Tabs, and How to Play

Originally posted 2009-02-28 20:57:25. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

“Thin Air”
Pearl Jam

Intro: E

E                                          C                  E
There’s a light… when my baby’s in my arms;
There’s a light… when the window shades are drawn.
Hesitate… when I feel I may do harm to her…
[Wash it off…] ’cause this feeling we can share.

E       C                                      D – A             E
And I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.

Byzantine… is reflected in our pond;
There’s a cloud… but the water remains calm.
Reaching in… the sun’s fingers clutch the dawn to pass;
Even out… it’s a precious thing to bear…

And I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.
Yes, I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.

E   F             C              G
It’s not in my past to presume…
G             D                            A
Love can keep on moving, in both directions.
F               C               G
How to be happy and true…
G       D                           A
Is the quest we’re taking on together…

E
Taking on… on, on, on…
Taking on… on, on, on on, on.

There’s a light… when my baby’s in my arms…

And I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.
And I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.
Yes, I know she’s reached my heart… in thin air.

E        C                                               A – E
Yes, I know she’s reached my heart…

** These chords and lyrics are interpretations and transcriptions, respectively, and are the sole property of the copyright holder(s). They are posted on this website free of charge for no profit for the purpose of study and commentary, as allowed for under the “fair use” provision of U.S. copyright law, and should only be used for such personal and/or academic work. **