Shortly before the release of Pearl Jam's new album Backspacer it seemed like the band couldn't catch a break. Bassist Jeff Ament was mugged outside of the recording studio and a deal to make the new disc exclusive to Target had fans crying "sell out". Sure this group has been through worse, it still was a less than auspicious setting to drop a new album.
When last we saw Pearl Jam they had reclaimed their often copied anthemic sound that they had dropped after their third album Vitalogy. Here on Backspacer it gets dropped again as Pearl Jam returns to an emphasis on wiry rhythms and subdued melodies. Every PJ album has its own flavor and here a loose punkiness mixed with maturity takes hold. Most of the songs are relatively short and the fast beat of the first four songs (The Whoish "Gonna See My Friend", "Got Some", the lead single "The Fixer" and the almost funky "Johnny Guitar") shoot by like a bullet.
In the middle of the album is "Just Breathe", a mellow acoustic ballad that sounds like a radio hit waiting to happen on adult contemporary. A surprise from this usually defiant rock band.
The sudden drop in tempo allows for more varied beats and a bit of classic rock such as the surging heroic "Amongst The Waves" with it's extended guitar solo or the pensive Traffic like piano driven "Unthought Known".
"Supersonic" picks up the pace again with another rapid fire rocker before going into a slower, swaying "Speed Of Sound". "Force Of Nature" is a decent mid tempo piece before closing with the reflective acoustic song (with strings!) "The End".
Overall, Pearl Jam sounds as invigorated and inspired as ever with a nerve and awareness in every track. They take chances by getting more frantic and ragged on the rockers while being sentimental and a bit mushy on ballads. Lyrically, it is one of their blander efforts with a lot of self affirmations and invocations of light, spirit, standing up for or against things. The relatively short run time (somewhere around 40 minutes) is perfect as it doesn't overstay its welcome. A good but not great Pearl Jam album.