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Arts and Culture

Great Singles and Abysmal Filler

Pearl Jam is still cranking it out.

By Gregory Adams 24 Sep 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Gregory Adams is a freelance writer who lives in Vancouver.

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As hard as it is to admit, I think I might be a bad friend. Just ask Pearl Jam. I mean, we used to be pretty tight. Back in the early '90s, when the group was riding high on the success of the Seattle grunge scene, I was obsessed with them. Between hanging posters on my walls, rocking a band shirt underneath a plaid button-up and wearing out my cassette copy of the band's 1991 debut Ten, I figured I was a lifer. Watching Pearl Jam bash out stadium-ready anthems like "Even Flow", "Alive", and "Jeremy" blew my 12-year-old mind when I caught them opening for Neil Young at BC Place. It was my first real rock show, and I was in love.

But by the time 1994's Vitalogy arrived, I was burned out. Punk was about to explode all over again, and while the band was known to cover the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer," and its own "Spin the Black Circle" was heavy as hell, I was ready for something new. Fickle fan that I was, I tucked away my plaid shirts, along with the records, and forgot that Pearl Jam even existed. The outfit's output since then is largely a mystery to me.

Judging by Backspacer, the group's recently released ninth album, Pearl Jam has been doing fine on its own. The front half of the record finds Pearl Jam cranking up the tempo compared to its earlier, groove-laden cuts. "Got Some" blasts by on a nervous new wave beat that's more Devo than "Daughter" before launching into the heavy-handed riffery of the chorus. The deceptively simple chant of "yeah, yeah, yeah" in excellent first single "The Fixer" practically clinches the adrenalized anthem as a crowd-pleaser on its latest tour, which hits town this Friday at GM Place.

Backspacer isn't without its faults, however. From the abysmal soul-searching acoustic folk number "Just Breathe" to the obnoxious organs on "Speed of Sound", the second half of the record kind of loses it. That's okay, though. Given its nearly 20-year history, the band can afford to record a dud or two.

Chances are I'm never going to feel the same way about Pearl Jam that I did in my pre-teens, but hearing the act crank out a couple great tunes after all these years makes me smile. I'll bet their die-hard fans are even happier.  [Tyee]

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