Pearl Jam: Back Spacer (Universal)

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Pearl Jam: The Fixer
Pearl Jam: Back Spacer (Universal)

Just as some would have you believe there were "Beatles fans" Vs "Stones fans" back in the day (usually by old people styling themselves Stones fans to appear cooler than they actually were at school), so too there was that weird schism set up between Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Nirvana were, of course, "authentic" and Pearl Jam were somehow just pretend-grunge in the eyes of many. The evidence of Pearl Jam's muscular shows and the fire-power on their albums would have seemed to give the lie to that (gee, didn't Kurt sing sensitive songs and do acoustic ballads?) but that kind of artificial divide suited the media and a few hardcore fans.

Me? I loved 'em both (and Mother Love Bone, early Soundgarden, SST label noise etc) but of the two I would have preferred to see Pearl Jam at their peak. They always struck me as more cathartic than Nirvana as a rock band.

That they have survived so long (although this is only their ninth studio album in almost two decades I think) and willfully walked away from corporate rock/MTV game more successfully than Nirvana has been to their great credit. Unless you are a real fan you probably wouldn't have a clue about their private lives -- and in this age faux-celebs/rehab children and the Winehouse/Doherty axis I quite like that too: means you just take the music as it comes at you.

And this one really comes at you: the two openers are the lyrically nihilistic Gonna See My Friend (a death/heroin song?) which is a full-frontal power-rock assault where that rhythm section really gets a workout, and Got Some is a steroid-fuelled stab at New Wave rock'n'roll.

Later Johnny Guitar and Unthought Unknown offer convincing evidence that Eddie Vedder and friends are more than capable of tearing the roof off a concert hall and projecting right to the back of the biggest stadiums. This is terrific rock'n'roll.

But there's also pop here -- The Fixer is power-pop with a chorus, Supersonic is trad rock'n'roll/pop which is flat-tack Fifties fun -- and Just Breathe is gentle acoustic ballad. Speed of Sound is slightly psyched-out bent-Beach Boys late-summer sound shoved through a rock mixer, and The End is one of those string-enhanced Vedder ballads that simply aches.

There's a lot of great Brendan O'Brien-produced music crammed into the running time of two sides of vinyl (thank you) but if you want more then there are options on the CD to download two live concerts. And that ain't corporate.

This Pearl Jam is some way removed from that which emerged almost two decades ago, they are more traditional in their approach, but they sound strong and like they are thoroughly enjoying themselves. And pretty cathartic still.

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