Pearl Jam – Backspacer

I did not draw this.

I went and reviewed Backspacer, then.

Look, I’m instigating a rule right now, okay? It’s very simple, and it goes like this: anyone who includes in their review of Backspacer – or any Pearl Jam album, for that matter – any allusion to Pearl Jam “getting their mojo back” or “returning to form” are forbidden to write about music for at least twelve years. It’s lazy journalism, and it’s insulting to the band, their fans, and whatever larger readership that writer may have. You see, Pearl Jam never lost their mojo – you just lost touch. Maybe you couldn’t muster up enthusiasm for Eddie Vedder’s increasingly pronounced political musings. Maybe their slow drift from sharp riff-rock into murky, muscular art-rock dulled your interest. Maybe you just found a new band to sink time into. Whatever the reason, don’t accuse Pearl Jam of losing their mojo – 2002’s unfairly-maligned Riot Act was as vital and brilliant as your beaten-up cassette copy of Ten ever was.

All that said, there is a reason why people might mistakenly assume Pearl Jam are getting their groove back with Backspacer – it’s pulsing with nervy energy; it’s tight, concise and to the point, saying everything it needs to say in a short 36 minutes. It’s arguably the most urgent and consciously self-edited Pearl Jam have been since 1994’s Vitalogy. All of that is fair to say. What isn’t fair to say is that they’ve “got their mojo back”.


  • Pearl Jam are, in my humble opinion, at their best when they’re broken and fighting. Vitalogy, fighting against fame; No Code, struggling to find their identity; Yield, realising they have to pick their battles; Binaural, fighting a mid-career slump; Riot Act, fighting George Bush. With Backspacer, I’m not sure they’re fighting anything. This might explain the feelings I contend with in the review.
  • “Johnny Guitar” is an odd song – it’s not bad, per se; it’s just not a song I’d listen to more than once if it was anyone other than Pearl Jam. Scratch that. It’s dreadful.
  • I really wish there was at least one huge guitar solo. Be unashamedly “rawk” at least once per album, please, Pearl Jam.


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