Pearl Jam hits #1

It’s official. Legendary Seattle grunge rockers have hit No. 1 with their latest album Backspacer, released September 20th.

While the quintet has acquired a following of die-hard fans across the globe, their newest work has reinstated themselves to their former glory through musical innovation, business-mindedness, and a willingness to grow up.

pearljam2006_04
Pearl Jam in 2006

They’ve had their share of difficulties, problems and compromises. Originally named Mother Love Bone, the band lost their frontman Andrew Wood to an overdose just a few days before their debut album Apple was scheduled to hit the market. In 1991, the group was criticized by Nirvana‘s Kurt Cobain for riding the successes of the grunge revolution, one that was started by social outcast which eventually became the centre of popular culture through increasing commercialization.

Throughout the mid to late 1990s, Pearl Jam got heavy censure for their anti-corporate tendencies and stubborn refusal to adhere to industry standard. They boycotted companies like TicketMaster and dismissed the notion of a music video — during the decade almost typifed by the music video — garnering harsh disapproval from many. In 1996, a writer from Rolling Stone claimed that Pearl Jam dropped off the face of the earth entirely for non-fans, because of  “the fact that they spent much of the past decade deliberately tearing apart their own fame.”

I’ve always loved the husky voice of Eddie Vedder, the angsty shredded talents of guitarist Mike McCready, but haven’t always been impressed with them. Ten, Vitalogy and Binaural stand out as some of the greatest albums of their time, but their attempts to diversify their sound sometimes came off as strange, anarchistic experiments in preachiness. They had to learn how to walk gracefully between the lines of music and activistm.

In the eleventh grade, I saw them play at GM Place during their Riot Act tour, an album that has been described as “Anti-Bush” in a die-hard-punk kind of way. The show was terrible. Vedder wore a hat obscuring his face the entire time, and there was no energy whatsoever. The band did not stray two feet in either direction, and there I was with expectations of Vedder climbing all over the place like he did in all those concert videos I watched.

Backspacer lets us forget all about that. The first track, ironically called “The End” recaptures the beauty of Vedder’s voice, as he muses over the idea of suicide without getting pedantic. “Johnny Guitar” is catchy as hell, definitely bringing back the much-missed nostalgia of the sounds of the 1990s.

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