Pearl Jam, 'Backspacer' (Monkeywrench)

8
Backspacer
Critical Mass
Label: Monkeywrench

by Josh Modell

Conventional wisdom marks 2006's Pearl Jam as the grunge outfit's reignition point after years without a spark. If that's true, then the first three songs on their ninth full-length are the explosion at the end of an extremely long fuse. The band hasn't put together a trifecta this energized and from-the-gut in a decade, and though the rest of Backspacer doesn't match that opening salvo, it has a terrific time trying.

"Gonna See My Friend," "Got Some," and "The Fixer" nearly upend each other rushing out the gate, exploiting Pearl Jam's leanest, punkest tendencies. And those traits carry through the album's 36 minutes. No time to waste and Obama in the White House mean no political bellyaching, so when Eddie Vedder pulls out that indignant yet inclusive snarl and proclaims, "When something's gone, I wanna fight to get it back again," you can probably assume "it" is his band's mojo.

Even the requisite restrained ballads feel renewed: "The End" finds Vedder channeling Cat Stevens, backed by a string and brass ensemble. Then there's the towering anthem "Amongst the Waves," which could bring "Alive" fans back to the fold. It even expands on that song's theme, moving from grudging survival to jubilant exuberance ("I've put away my early grave"). For the first time in years, Pearl Jam are seizing the moment rather than wallowing in it.

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