Backspacer Press Roundup

by Kathy Davis on September 9, 2009

Well, lovelies, we are counting the days until we get to feast our eyes and ears on the new Pearl Jam album…SQUEEEEEEE just typing the words ”new Pearl Jam” got me all squirmy with delight.  Bring on Backspacer, we say! Short or long, we wants it…our precious.  Our internationally successful band gets much press, and there is some good stuff out there.  Interviews, reviews, ah the head spins…here’s a batch of articles to amp up the anticipation a notch. As if.

List of items below, for easy reference:
-2 interview excerpts from Canadian website
-Reviews from: Mojo, Q, Uncut, Kerrang!, Spin, Spiegel
-Video link: Ed and Matt talk to Germany’s 3 Sat

First, Jason MacNeil of (published under the Niagara Falls Review masthead) reported two wee quotes from Stone and Mike about potential Backspacer outtakes and the wonders of Neil Young:

After reissuing its debut album Ten earlier this year, Pearl Jam already has some extra songs hanging around for what will be its tenth studio album.

No timeline or musical direction has yet to take shape, but according to guitarist Mike McCready, one of the songs from the Backspacer sessions is a “big monster song of Ed’s.”

“It’s like a nine-minute song, so there was a lot of experimenting with stuff that didn’t fit in,” guitarist Stone Gossard adds. “It has an enormous jam section.”

“There are song ideas that are pretty flushed out, they’re not all down but there’s some pretty good stuff,” McCready says.

Pearl Jam also opened and closed its Toronto gig with Neil Young covers, but oddly enough, the band has never played at Massey Hall.

Eddie Vedder played the venue two nights in August, 2008.

“Is that like a 2200-seater?” McCready asks. “We have one of those in Seattle, The Paramount, I love playing those venues.”

And while neither has gone through Young’s massive Archives Vol. 1 box set from start to finish, Gossard says he’s still amazed by the man Vedder calls “Uncle Neil.”

“I just saw the American Masters thing and it’s so shockingly good,” he says.

“He’s one of a kind. He’s really challenged everybody in terms of what’s possible and how to stick to your guns and be totally relevant still. He’s a total dreamer. He’s very attached with manifesting his imagination. It’s crazy.”

Here’s MacNeil again, with a much more juicy extended interview excerpt with Stone and Mike, detailing more of the album.  Source: Sun.

When longtime Seattle rock group Pearl Jam began working on their new studio album, the idea was to delete any of the sonic fat which appeared on some of their earlier efforts.

Hence, it seems quite suitable that the band chose Backspacer as its album title.

“I think basically we wanted it to be pretty focused,” guitarist Stone Gossard says backstage — alongside guitarist Mike McCready — before a Toronto show last Friday. “If it wasn’t really developing (into) a song or a plot, then it was, ‘Just get rid of it.’ We did the right work for them, they’re fresh and they’re up-tempo but they’re not over-thought.”

Backspacer, out Sept. 20, has 11 songs and clocks in at 36 minutes, 10 minutes less than their previous shortest effort, Vs., back in 1993. Gossard also says McCready, drummer Matt Cameron, bassist Jeff Ament and himself worked on the album while Eddie Vedder toured solo last year behind the Into the Wild soundtrack.

“With this album, the band was in full control of it to start out with. Ed wasn’t involved,” he says. “We got our songs together and got what was the base of the record, the backbone of it. Ed came in and it started to morph. We carried the torch and passed it to Ed and he inhabited it all. Once he wrapped his head around the songs, he knew how to finish them and we trusted him with that.”

Produced by Brendan O’Brien, early reviews of Backspacer have tossed around the “New Wave” term quite a bit. But don’t expect Pearl Jam to be wearing skinny ties and trading guitars for synthesizers anytime soon. From crisp, punchy rockers like Supersonic and Got Some to broader, well-rounded anthems like Amongst the Waves and Unthought Known, it’s quite solid from start to finish.

As for favourites, McCready says Just Breathe, one of two Vedder-led acoustic-driven numbers, is his pick.

“I think Ed’s harmonies when he comes in on the chorus are so striking and phenomenal and moving that it just draws me in every time I hear it,” he says. “It’s a beautiful love song.”

Meanwhile, Gossard selects The End, the other number in a similar style.

“I think The End is one of the greatest songs ever written — it’s ridiculous lyrical, structural simplicity and finger-picking,” he says. “How close his voice is to just breaking but it doesn’t. I think it’s exciting that he wanted to do some of that with this band too. It was a great opportunity for this band to have that as a whole rather than to try and separate it.”

So far on their current tour, Pearl Jam has only performed a handful of songs from Backspacer, including the single The Fixer. McCready says more of the new material will appear in concert once the album is officially released.

“I think playing the new songs is just a joy,” he says. “It’s exciting for us as musicians because it’s new art and (we) see how people react to it. New is always exciting, I want to play more of it.”

But don’t expect Pearl Jam to be out on the road months at a time supporting it. Gossard says they will continue touring, but would “love to make records and tour in smaller increments over the next 20 years.”

It goes against the traditional music industry grain, but that’s nothing new for these guys.

“There’s a real collective energy that’s built over the years,” Gossard says. “There were so many times where people said, ‘You’re going to screw your career.’ Everything that everyone said was going to be the end of us ended up being something that we grew from and that people respected.”

Many magazines are reviewing the album of course. While we don’t intend to be completist as we expect an avalanche, here’s a goodly grouping from across the pond, in October 2009 issues of these great magazines…

UK’s Mojo Magazine (ah, how we love Mojo), reviewed by Phil Alexander: (thanks to Dennis from Bugs Mailing List)

How to use a ninth life wisely…

“Neil Young taught us dignity,” said singer Eddie Vedder, discussing  the veteran American rocker’s influence on Pearl Jam. The group’s  ninth album is proof that down the years the Seattle five-piece have  learnt their lessons well. While the reissue of their 1991 debut  earlier this year reminded fans of their initial impact, Backspacer -  wrapped in a warm Brendan O’Brien production – has more in common with  REM and Tom Petty than its melodramatic grunge ancestry. The heroic  tracks (opener Gonna See My Friend, Supersonic, Johnny Guitar) capture  Pearl Jam in pure classic rock mode, but it’s Vedder’s more considered  moments that win the day. Just Breathe (acoustic mysticism and pump  organ reverie), Amongst The Waves (anthemic, yet lithe) and The End (a  reflective final bow) make this one of Pearl Jam’s most satisfying  albums. Listen without prejudice.  4 out of 5 stars

UK’s Q Magazine, reviewed by Paul Brannigan (again courtesy Dennis from Bugs)

Grunge’s last men standing lighten up, rock out. Even within Seattle’s none-more-bleak grunge scene, Eddie Vedder was always considered an overly intense young man. So to hear him yelping,  “I need to hear it, need to feel it loud” like a young Gene Simmons on  the bar-band boogie of “Supersonic” on the quintet’s ninth album is  something. Backspacer has its introspective moments “Just Breathe” could sit on Vedder’s folksy Into The Wild soundtrack,  but it’s  largely characterised by joyous new wave-influenced rock ‘n roll, and  for the first time in their 19-year career, Pearl Jam actually sound (whisper it)  fun. No, honestly. 4 out of 5 stars

Yet another BritMag; here is what  Uncut Magazine has to say about Backspacer (Dennis, you’re a god.)

Like a grunge version of a Christmas carol, 2009 has seen Pearl Jam be visited by a ghost of an album past. Instead of rattling chains and  terrible foretellings of misfortunes to come, however, the handsome reissue of Ten sees instead to have pointed to a positive way forward  for the band. Perhaps some aspects of the album – the big shorts, the  hays, the heavy metal production – needed to be left behind. Others - the energy, the agenda-free simplicity of a band making its first  album – seemed to warrant a revisit. After all, wasn’t it these that  got them where they are today?

Backspacer, Pearl Jam’s ninth album, is a record that would seem to bear out some of these ideas – resulting in what you might called a  meticulously contrived spontaneity. A bright, breezy and at 36  minutes, refreshingly short album, it’s a collection that shoots for,  and often attains, a kind of sonic innocence. Much as, say, R.E.M.  attempted to do with last year’s Accelerate, Backspacer is a spirited  attempt to find the kind of energy that accompanied the band’s  earliest days, when the musicians played without baggage or expectation. Don’t think of us as the stadium-filling rock filling  rock band of conscience, or writers of such impressive ballads as  Given To Fly, it says. Underneath it all, after all, we’re just a  band.

Whether you buy into that idea completely or not, certainly, the  best feature of the album is the charming naivety it creates. Rather  than the raw thrashing that announced the arrival of Vitalogy – also  produced by Brendan O’Brien, and an earlier example of the musical  self medication on display here – this seems to hark back to an  idealized new wave, nostalgic look back, perhaps, to some of the  band’s formative, late 70s pop memories. A track like “Got Some” meanwhile, connects the band with the kind of primal, Blue Oyster Cult  branded guitar soloing that the younger and hairier Pearl Jam would use to fill every vacant space on their debut. Sketchy it may be at  times, but the intention seems to blow away the accumulated cobwebs of  15 years well-intentioned, high level, rock music.

Undoubtedly the opening of the LP does just that, the sequence of four  tracks from opener ‘Gonna See My Friend’ to ‘Johnny Guitar’, via  enjoyable single ‘The Fixer’ all delivered in a fraction over 10  minutes. What happens next, though, is probably a more honest to God  reflection of how things truly are in the house of Pearl Jam. ‘Just  Breathe’, a touching ballad, with stirring strings, finds an emotional  Vedder effectively counting his lucky stars, and pondering mortality.  The mid-paced  ’Amongst the Waves’, meanwhile, finds this emotional surfer contemplating his lot: ‘Remember back, the early days/When you were young/Suddenly the channel changed’.

To be honest, it’s more of these contemplative, forty-something man  with a young family-type songs you’d imagine Pearl Jam to be writing  right now. As it is, the achievement of Backspacer is to  satisfactorily accommodate them alongside what sounds as if it’s  otherwise been a refreshing valeting of their upholstery – one they’ve  managed to perform without, say, the giveaway signs of going to Morocco, or employing Brian Eno. Certainly, no-one in their right mind  would listen to this LP and think Pearl Jam were the bratty punk-pop  band that at times they attempt to be here, but those tracks (more,  like ‘Supersonic’, follow later) dovetail well with the general mood  of reflection on display elsewhere. This, they seem to be saying, is as much about taking stock of who we were then, as much as where we
are now.

As good as the band performances are here, as with R.E.M., Pearl Jam rely a lot on the singer’s delivery to elevate them into something  spectacular. Lyrically, the faster songs here function better as a  mood-establishing collection than as actual songs. But the commitment  that vedder brings to all this material, from the rowdiest thrashing to the schmaltziest ballad makes this feel like a unified and  ultimately convincing project. Back a space, maybe, but forward two.”  4 out of 5 stars

Completing the BritMag quadfecta, here is a scan of the 4 out of 5 “K” review from “Kerrang!” magazine.  (taken from forum member Boing at  TheSkyIScrape forum Red Mosquito -via Dennis @ Bugs, of course)

click for enlarged version

U.S. Press is following along with the ”4 out of 5″ reviews; Josh Modell of Spin has this to say about Backspacer:

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.

Andreas Borcholte of German publication Spiegel is a bit more glowing, giving the record a 9 of 10. (Andreas from Bugs splashed the review link, Farry from Bugs nabbed a good translation)

A liberation. “Here I am / Riding high amongst the waves” sings the passionate surfer Eddie Vedder in a hymn in the middle of the new Pearl Jam album, so full of zeal and energy that you are a bit ashamed of it, the last of the great grunge bands written off already. Since the beginning of  the decade to Vedder, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron (seemed) trapped in a diffuse cloud of billowing immaturity(caught up in the zeal of outspoken) frontman Eddie at concerts and other public appearances - against the government of George W. Bush lashed out, the more unpopular albums like “Binaural”, “Riot Act” and most recently “Pearl Jam”. Perhaps the release and relief, (felt) by the election of Barack Obama, worried indeed at the veterans from Seattle for new looseness.  Amazing: After U2 Pearl Jam is the second supposedly saturated rock fragments, accruing in that year to a new form.  (okay, so the translation isn’t perfect…Kath)

Backspacer, produced short and concise 36 minutes of tape confidant  Brendan O’Brien is going to open with a rumbling song trio, which reduces the band in an impressive way to their punk roots,” Gonna See My Friends ” musically between the Stooges and Who influences, is the jovial cry of joy, to launching a Confined for years, the first warm spring air smells again.  ”Got Some” is punchy and urgent, and “The Fixer”, a pretty Kinks homage, tells of a good guy who loves to make things better. Optimism everywhere.  Then the album loses some of its momentum in favor of the ballad “Just Breathe”, which to the acoustic style of Vedder solo soundtrack album “Into The Wild linked” – the scent of freedom and adventure. “Johnny Guitar” with a guitar riff played backwards, then again with fascinating displays of virtuosity, that this band consists of excellent instrumentalists. In the end, after the life-affirming “Alive” counterpart “Amongst The Waves”, is once again on Nick-Drake-terrain when Vedder in “The End” at peace with  itself and the distracted Bush takes years. Focused, more versatile, more vital you have not heard Pearl Jam long. A rock record with heart, muscles and brain overload this powerhouse of one.

Finally, while we’re in Germany, here is a link to a great 18 minute 32 second interview with Ed Ved and the man Matt Cameron from 3 Sat. If we could figure out how to embed it, we would. Go and watch!


Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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