Pearl Jam: Best Of The Year – & Decade

by Kathy Davis on January 2, 2010

We’re rather biased when it comes to Pearl Jam here at TwoFeetThick.com – it’s sort of a given that whatever the band’s latest release is, we’re going to think it’s the best thing ever.  That said, it’s gratifying  that our band’s 2009 offering Backspacer has enjoyed such a raft of acclaim across the board.  From venerable institutions such as Rolling Stone  to music bloggers  to international media, Pearl Jam’s latest is a winner.  See, it wasn’t just us!

As the first decade of the 21st century draws ends,  the band also appears in many ”best of the last 10 years” lists.   Here is a roundup of “Top Ten”, “Best Of The Year”  and “Decade’s Best” appearances  that feature Pearl Jam as well as Backspacer and related songs.

First up, heavy hitters Rolling Stone magazine have an abundance of polls; first they rate the 25 Best Songs of 2009, with “The Fixer” at #6:

Songs of 2009

1 | U2 — “Moment of Surrender”

2 | Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys — “Empire State of Mind”

3 | Bruce Springsteen — “Outlaw Pete”

4 | Miley Cyrus — “Party in the USA”

5 | Phoenix — “1901″

6 | Pearl Jam — “The Fixer”

7 | Dirty Projectors — “Stillness is the Move”

8 | The Big Pink — “Dominoes”

9 | Yeah Yeah Yeahs — “Zero”

10 | Lady Gaga — “Bad Romance”

Hovering just above the Top Ten on their 25 Best Albums of 2009:

Albums of 2009

1 | U2: No Line on the Horizon

2 | Bruce Springsteen: Working on a Dream

3 | Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

4 | Jay-Z: The Blueprint 3

5 | Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown

6 | Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca

7 | Neko Case: Middle Cyclone

8 | The-Dream: Love vs Money

9 | The xx: The xx

10 | Sonic Youth: The Eternal

11 | Pearl Jam: Backspacer

Rolling Stone readers rate their Most Underrated Albums of The Decade, with 2 PJ releases in the top half of the poll:

1. The Killers – Sam’s Town
2. Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam
3. Kings of Leon – Because of the Times
4. R.E.M – Accelerate
5. Radiohead – Hail to the Thief
6. The Killers – Day & Age
7. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones
9. Beck – Guero
10. Muse – Black Holes and Revelations
11. Pearl Jam – Backspacer

Here’s the writeup, featuring comments from Jeff &  Ed :Looking back to the good old ’90′s, legendary Rolling Stone music writer David Fricke compiled a list of  “Live In The 90′s: The Greatest Concerts of The Decade”, and he chose the 1991 Chili Peppers/Pumpkins/PJ triple-header from October-November as among the best.

Drunk with the music … emotionally vomiting on canvas … climbing onto a balcony or somehow hanging above the crowd, so that it made people stop and think, ‘You know what? This guy does not give a fuck about his life,’ and that there was some kind of celebration in that.”

That is how Eddie Vedder describes what it was like to be onstage in the autumn of 1991 — in front of the wrecking-ball swing of Pearl Jam; facing an audience each night instead of being lost in one; armed with the eleven songs from Ten, his band’s new, barely known debut; having just half an hour to connect with the crowd before the Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers took over.

“It didn’t matter,” Vedder says, “what building we played in, how many people were there, who was going to play after. It was just that moment, being completely immersed, spinning around. If I wasn’t completely wrecked — scratched up, blood somewhere, torn clothes — I didn’t feel like I played hard enough.

“It’s interesting to look back,” he continues with the amazement and slight discomfort of someone looking at old family photos. “But we had nothing to lose. You had ten years of playing music and never having a crowd. Then all of a sudden you had one, and you wanted to take advantage of that time.”

“The main thing I remember,” says Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, “is being backstage and playing our guitars, to the point of sweating before we went onstage, so when we hit the stage, it didn’t take us twenty minutes to warm up. We wanted to kick ass as much as we could in thirty minutes.”

Pearl Jam were the low band on the totem pole on this tour; the group was Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard’s third try at rock & roll glory after earlier stabs with Green River and Mother Love Bone. Fresh out of Chicago, the Pumpkins were the creamy, dreamy middle of the show, touting their debut album, Gish, and drowning the crowds in the thick paisley whorl of Billy Corgan’s and James Iha’s guitars. The Peppers, from Los Angeles, were veterans, eight years in the game. Their new record, BloodSugarSexMagik, was their best to date: wiry funk with a sharp lyric candor, especially in the album’s surprise hit, singer Anthony Kiedis’ poignant junkie memoir, “Under the Bridge.”

Today, this three-act lineup looks like alt-rock Olympus, the Nineties rock revolution comin’ round the mountain. Combined with the first Lollapalooza tour that year and Nirvana’s U.S. shows the same fall, the Peppers-Pumpkins-Pearl Jam package pulled the sound and vitality of the American underground into broad daylight. But there was also a little serendipity involved: The Pumpkins and Pearl Jam were on that bill because the acts first invited to support the Peppers — Ice Cube, Lenny Kravitz and Soundgarden — declined.

The tour fell together, Kiedis confesses, “in traditional Chili Pepper last-minute-McGillicuddy fashion.” Kiedis saw the Pumpkins performing on MTV’s 120 Minutes and thought they had “this very different, beautiful, musical aesthetic,” he says. “And [ex-Pepper] Jack Irons called [Peppers bassist] Flea and said, ‘I’m friends with these guys, they just finished their first record, would you consider taking them?’ Flea listened to the tape — which was Pearl Jam.”

At the first stop — the Oscar Mayer Theater in Madison, Wisconsin — the bands introduced themselves to one another before showtime. The Peppers and Pearl Jam quickly bonded over a common love: basketball. Kiedis watched both openers that night and says he immediately knew there was magic in the house: “I remember thinking, ‘They really have their shit together for young, first-record bands.’ “

Pearl Jam were so new to touring that they were traveling by bus, instead of van, for the first time. They were also breaking in a new drummer, Dave Abbruzzese, as well as their repertoire; the group had recorded Ten before doing any major live work. “From playing the songs live,” says Ament, “we wished the record was harder. When I hear live tapes from that time, we seem ridiculously fast.”

Inside the acceleration was a dynamic tension closer to Led Zeppelin than to the Dead Boys: an intuitive ebb and flow in Ament’s bass and Gossard’s and Mike McCready’s guitars. Pearl Jam’s set lists on the ’91 tour — and at the club dates they headlined on off nights, like the memorable November show at CBGB in New York — were packed with that heave and sigh: “Jeremy,” “Why Go,” “Alive,” “Even Flow.” The band usually opened with “Oceans” or “Release” but always bid violent sayonara with “Porch,” during which Vedder pushed, as he puts it, “the boundaries of insane behavior”: diving into the crowd, climbing up stage curtains. In St. Louis, Vedder scrambled, monkeylike, above the audience, along the entire length of the venue’s mezzanine balcony.

“It cracked people’s shells — and that coolness void,” Vedder says. “If they weren’t able to respect the songs, they could at least respect the fact that this guy is hanging on a greasy, dusty sprinkler pipe forty feet above their heads — and still has the mike, and he’s singing. And if I fell, they caught me. Which was a huge trust exercise.”

The Smashing Pumpkins’ acid-splashed introspection was a vital respite from the unchained testosterone of Pearl Jam and, later, the Peppers. “They had sort of a feminine dynamic,” Kiedis says of the Pumpkins, noting that Corgan “was a very strong presence, even though he was inward and gentle and had a different energy altogether. Even when I wasn’t watching, when I was listening while we were getting ready backstage, I could tell that he meant it.”

Ironically, the tour was a mixed triumph for the Peppers, who were about to break wide with “Under the Bridge.” On that first night in Madison, Kiedis recalls, “every single person in the audience knew the lyrics to ‘Under the Bridge.’ ” Along with a fistful of songs from BloodSugar and the ’89 album Mother’s Milk, the Peppers got nasty with Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and usually encored with some Hendrix: “Crosstown Traffic” or “Fire.” The band did its notorious bare-ass-and-tube-sock routine only “when the mood struck,” Kiedis says, and Flea even threw some family values into the show. He brought his young daughter Clara out for an occasional cameo. (At Roseland in New York, she sang “The Alphabet Song.”)

But John Frusciante, the Peppers’ shy, killer guitar prodigy, was pulling away from the rest of the group. He finally quit, in midtour, the following May, going on a bleak sabbatical that ended in 1998, when he rejoined. “John was having a real hard time, and there was a ton of tension,” says Ament, who saw the Peppers’ growing estrangement from the sidelines. “I remember that being a downer, just loving those guys so much at the time. And they were playing amazing shows.”

The Pumpkins and Pearl Jam would get blindsided by success further down the road: the fatal heroin over dose of the Pumpkins’ touring keyboard player, Jonathan Melvoin, in 1996; the subsequent firing of their drummer Jimmy Chamberlin over his own drug use (he returned this year); Pearl Jam’s sudden megastardom and Vedder’s public battles with fame. “It was a moment in time,” Vedder says of his band’s overnight celebrity, “that I don’t know if we were poised for or” — he laughs — “if we handled it with poise. But there was a lot going on in all our lives. I was coming to terms with the death of my father; there were things I was going through emotionally in regard to that.

“But I remember pouring our hearts and souls into it,” he says of the music and shows. “I’m really glad we had that opportunity. And I’m glad we survived it. Because the music continues.

Spin Magazine rates the 30 Biggest Concerts of 2009, and they rate the entire Backspacer tour as among the year’s best:

PEARL JAM

‘BACKSPACER’ U.S. TOUR
AUGUST-OCTOBER
20 years into their career, the Seattle alt-rock vets have found a revitalized sound with their ninth full-length album, Backspacer, as evidenced by lean and mean tunes like “The Fixer” and “Got Some.” “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,” wrote SPIN’s Josh Modell in the album’s review. “For the first time in years, Pearl Jam are seizing the moment rather than wallowing in it.”

To celebrate the band’s return to form, we followed trailed the alt-rock vets across the country on their U.S. tour. Read our live reviews below.

>> Night 1: Toronto
>> Night 2: Chicago
>> Night 3: Chicago
>> Night 4: Outside Lands
>> Pearl Jam Dig Deep Into Catalog in Philly

U.S. National Public Radio (aka NPR)  rates Ten Albums You’re Too Cool To Like, and Backspacer made the cut, at #7:

Someone like you listens to a lot of cool and/or unusual music, and refuses to sample the good stuff right under his or her nose because it’s “mainstream.” Lots of hipsters know about the very latest bands, having scoured the Web for the newest undiscovered thing, but are coiled to backlash as soon as others “get it.” And, while the music world needs hipsters to help others find new stuff, it’s best not to think them omniscient — after all, there’s lots of great music they’re too cool to notice.
Album: Backspacer  Song: Fixer

Hipster Rejection Scale: 7 of 10. Factors: props to alt-rock pioneers; well-fed but still vital.

Few rock bands have the ability to stay relevant decades after a major breakthrough. Pearl Jam has bucked that trend by keeping its ear to the ground and maintaining a strong connection to fans. Back Spacer features quick, punchy songs by Pearl Jam’s standards. This album finds the band sounding less angst-ridden and more melodic, but still unafraid to blow some eardrums out. In a world of “What have you done for me lately?” Pearl Jam has released Back Spacer. That’s a good thing, in case you were wondering. Its rock ‘n’ roll, after all. —Matt Reilly

The staff of the best music publication in the industry, Billboard Magazine, rated Backspacer in their Critics Top Ten Album of 2009, coming in at Number 8:

Pearl Jam’s ninth studio album earned the nearly 20-year-old Seattle band its first No. 1 in 13 years. Led by the irresistibly sunny lead single, “The Fixer,” the 11-song, sub-37-minute album’s key is the particular brew of rockers (including the opening one-two combo of “Gonna See My Friend,” a furious Stooges-style garage blast, and the propulsive, Police-y “Got Some”) and vulnerable ballads (the gorgeous “Just Breathe,” and aching gut-punch finale “The End”).

Contact Music reports that news agency WENN (World Entertainment News Network -aka where Perez Hilton gets most of his pictures) rated Backspacer as THE best album of 2009:

QUENTIN TARANTINO and rockers PEARL JAM have another reason to celebrate this Christmas (09) – they’ve topped the WENN end-of-year movie and album polls.

Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds narrowly beat comedy The Hangover and indie hit (500) Days of Summer to land the Best Film prize, while Pearl Jam’s Backspacer was the clear winner on the album countdown, ahead of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3 and Them Crooked Vultures’ eponymous debut. Also making the two top 10s were Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, Watchmen, Up and Public Enemies and Robbie Williams’ Reality Killed The Radio Star, Florence & The MAChine’s Lungs and Year in the Kingdom by Fleet Foxes drummer J. Tillman.
Here are the lists:

Best Album of 2009
1. Backspacer – Pearl Jam
2. The Blueprint 3 – Jay-Z
3. Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures
4. Lungs – Florence & The MAChine
5. Together Through Life – Bob Dylan
6. It’s Blitz – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
7. Reality Killed the Video Star – Robbie Williams
8. 21st Century Breakdown – Green Day
9. Year In The Kingdom – J. Tillman
10. Humanoid – Tokio Hotel

The staff of 10 at BlareMagazine.com offer the Top Ten Albums of 2009:

27. Pearl Jam / Backspacer

On Backspacer, Pearl Jam is kind of like that gnarly old surfer who works at the resort giving lessons on the beach (this analogy is helped by the fact that one song on the album is called “Amongst the Waves”). This surfer guy has seen his share of glory days, but he’s still got it in him to ride (or, in this case, rock) with the young kids, as on “Gonna See My Friend” or “Got Some”. Sure, but he doesn’t have as much anger in him as he used to; he’s made his peace with the Earth and some days he gets up and he just feels great (“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”).

UK Publication Classic Rock Magazine have a list of the 100 Greatest Rock Songs of The ‘Naughties’ (what they are calling the 2000 decade – and I like it! kd ), and “Worldwide Suicide” rates at #73:

73. Worldwide Suicide – Pearl Jam
From the 2006 album Pearl Jam. Just when you thought Pearl Jam had lost all their spunk, they came up with this spike-encrusted offering that harks backs to the rawest, angriest, edgiest days of grunge. The track, it turns out, is a diatribe against the war in Iraq.

Dan Deluca of the Philadelphia Enquirer rated his Top Five Shows of 2009.  Though The Boss took the number one spot, it comes as no surprise that one of the Spectrum shows made the cut:

4. Pearl Jam, Oct. 30, the Spectrum. I almost got crushed to death on the concourse on the next-to-last night at the Spectrum. So maybe it was that happy-to-be-alive euphoria that animated Pearl Jam’s penultimate show at the South Philadelphia arena. More likely, the Seattle band didn’t have the burden to carry that it did the next night, and was free to cut loose. The raucous reception was unmatched by any during the Spectrum’s final year of shows, particularly as the grunge survivors fired away with “Jeremy,” “Alive,” and The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” “We’ve played a lot of shows here,” Eddie Vedder said. “And this is the crowd we’ve been waiting for.”

Canadian music writer Mark Lepage over at Canada.com rates his Top Ten Discs of 2009, and Backspacer  weighs in at #8. And Lepage has excellent has excellent taste!

1. Sonic Youth: The Eternal (Matador). Impossibly vital, woozy, skronk-stoned and sonic after 29 years (!), this ranks among their finest.

2. The Dead Weather: Horehound (Third Man/Warner Bros.). With his aptly unchallenged fusion of authenticity and style, Jack White pulls together another band with the element he’s been missing: a gothic-blues fatale.

3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It’s Blitz! (DGC/Universal). Dancing on the ceiling, clever Karen O brings heart, soul and eccentricity to alt-beats. Special mention for the band’s heroic subbing for the Beasties at Osheaga.

4. PJ Harvey/John Parish: A Woman A Man Walked By (Island). The formalist album after 2007’s gutting White Chalk, it still channels its own dark, writerly/emotional intensity, in many shadings and variants.

5. Dinosaur Jr.: Farm (Jagjaguwar). The Slacker King returns with groaning voice and Odin guitar, vitals not just intact, but bristling. One moving epic (Said the People), one brain-bolter (I Don’t Wanna Go There) and his true anthem: “Do you have some plans for me?”

6. The Eels: Hombre Lobo (E Works/Vagrant). Weary, lovely, lusty and wise, Mr. E confronts desire in the requisite werewolf beard.

7. The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love (Rough Trade). An epic song-cycle performance at Osheaga revealed the ample heart and sorcery in this Victoriana trip through the darkening woods.

8. Pearl Jam: Backspacer (Universal). A winning return to form after a decade of hairshirts, Backspacer felt like the first Pearl Jam in an age to arrive without a formal apology.

9. Them Crooked Vultures: Them Crooked Vultures (Columbia). The classic rock mastodon lumbers around in the consciousness, looking for a place to keel over; the Vultures descend to keep all those riffs and grooves from just putrefying in the tarpit.

10. Glasvegas: Glasvegas (Columbia). Like a fusion of every stylized Scottish echo-band, virtually guaranteed to eventually write a decade-owning anthem you’ll love despite yourself. Inspirational line: “My name is Geraldine – I’m your social worker.”

And now on to the independent music critics, the Bloggers!  First we have Culture Bully, with the Top Songs of 2009, and they rate Just Breathe as amongst the best:

4) Pearl Jam “Just Breathe” (album review)
The most delicate and touching track on a rugged rock album, “Just Breathe” showcases how brilliant Eddie Vedder’s much scoffed at songwriting can truly be.

Willis at NewMusicReviews.net is the King of Left-Handed Compliments on this one, but we’ll take his pat-on-the-back of Backspacer anyway in his Best Albums of 2009 list:

Title
A funny thing happened to Pearl Jam as they began writing their ninth album together: The world that they spent most of the ’90s rebelling against had practically disappeared. Think about it: In 2009, there was no finite version of what “selling out” or “corporate rock” actually meant. So what did that leave Eddie Vedder and company to cry about? Not much, really. But it turns out that was actually a good thing because, throughout Backspacer, the lyrics are more optimistic and the guitars are once again cranked up to 11, especially on rollicking tracks like “Got Some” and “The Fixer.” Granted, Pearl Jam weren’t the only grunge Gods who mounted a comeback this year. (Unfortunately, we also had to suffer through Alice In Chains.) But in the end, Eddie and the boys were the only ones who actually got it right.

The team at HearSoundsWrite, a collective of three Carolina-native music fans, rate Backspacer in their Top 20 Albums of The Year:

18. Pearl Jam – Backspacer The best quality of Pearl Jam’s newest disc is brevity. Eddie Vedder takes less than forty minutes to convey his point over eleven songs. Amazingly, Vedder’s voice hasn’t a forfeited a shred of intensity since Ten, in my opinion. Look no further than single, “The Fixer”. The triumphal chorus is vintage Pearl Jam, reminiscent of Vs.-era up-tempo rock mesmorization, a la “Rearviewmirror”. Tinged with a few contemplative pieces amidst the usual rock melee, Pearl Jam reminds us that they’re a band willing to come to terms with their age…but not quite yet.

Longtime Pop Culture blog 411mania.com rate the Top Ten Albums of 2009, betcha can’t guess what is in the Top Ten:

3. Pearl Jam – Backspacer

I  imagine that the Bush Presidency wasn’t always the easiest time for Pearl Jam. I say that not necessarily because of their output during those eight years, but rather because of their first album post-Bush, the terrific Backspacer, which features no political songs and features the band at its tightest and most energetic. Clearly with a weight having been lifted off of their shoulders, the group pounds through rockers and eases their way through ballads without any strain, making it seem easy. I hesitate to call it a return to form since I think that unfairly criticizes some of their other recent work, but it’s clearly the best Pearl Jam album since at least Yield, an album that reminds people of just how good the band is despite not really sounding like the songs that made them so popular in the first place.

Many regular old people off the street, like us here at TFT have passionate opinions about music. FYI, The ones shared here are done so bearing that in mind. Moving on to Dylan, Etc. and his – Top 40 Albums of 2009:

40. Pearl Jam – Backspacer

The cry of “sell out” rang louder than ever when Pearl Jam announced an exclusive partnership with Target to promote this album, and for good reason. Eddie Vedder and co. have built a career on sticking in to the man, be that man Bush or Ticketmaster. Times may have changed, but the Pearl Jam sound hasn’t. The grunge quintet rock harder than they have in years, pumping out balls-to-the-wall stomps like it was 1992 all over again.

Million Miles of Water has this to say about Backspacer in his Top Ten Albums of 2009:

04. Backspacer – Pearl Jam
Wow, it actually rocks: impressive stuff from the Seattle veterans. If I’m honest, Pearl Jam could have released a CD consisting of 12 tracks of silence and it would probably still be on this list. Yes, they’re old, but importantly they have evolved. They are no longer the grunge band of the 90′s, but are now crafters of middle paced, quality guitar music. Don’t mistake this for average though – anything with the voice of Eddie Vedder and the guitar of Mike McCready is worth paying attention to. Got Some is a stormer, and sets the standard for the rest of the record. Unthought Known is my current favourite, with its Wishlist-esque guitar and “You will be no one’s rival” refrain. Force of Nature showcases McCready’s ever-impressive guitar skills, and they are apparent all through the album. I finally saw them live this year, and I can safely say they are one of the best around. Bring on the next album!

Michael D. Clark at CultureMap Houston rates his 10 Favorite CD’s of 2009:

Pearl Jam “Backspacer” (Monkeywrench) It took nearly a decade but Pearl Jam, one of the most influential bands of the ’90s grunge era, finally made a dent worthy of mention in the new millennium. After spending three albums “finding themselves” as adult men with wives and families and noodling with complex arrangements that were often provoking but rarely rocked, Eddie Vedder is leading an anti-establisment masterpiece on “Backspacer.” There are 11 rips about government politics, relationship politics, the destruction of drugs and the human psyche wrapped up in an efficient 36 minutes. If I didn’t know we were talking about Pearl Jam, I’d say that describes to a tee the great punk albums by everyone from The Ramones to Black Flag.

We are sure that more “Best of” lists will come out and favorites chosen; it’s thrilling that after nearly 20 years, Pearl Jam continue to innovate, reinvent and impress – especially many music writers who may have seen it all and heard it all.

Keep on Rockin’ in the New Year!

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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