Backspacing 'Backspacer': Reconstructing Pearl Jam's latest
By JOSHUA LIEBERSON
STATIC and FEEDBACK correspondent
Feeling uninspired by Pearl Jam’s Backspacer? While there seems to be no consensus from the various opinions I've heard of the new album, I feel like I can offer a theory as to why this album hasn't quite rated with the rest: sequencing. Perhaps taking a queue from My Morning Jacket's Evil Urges, Pearl Jam jumbles the song order in a manner that makes it feel much less like a Pearl Jam album, and more like just another album from some band. However, I feel that taking this album and reconstructing it in the order and feel of a proper Pearl Jam album lends a new perspective on the entire album — it stands up there with the rest.
So try this order out for size. If it elevates your experience of the new disc, awesome. If not, well, you didn't lose anything trying.
1. Gonna See My Friend: Just like real thing. Admit it, you need some rockin' PJ to get the blood flowing on a new album, and this track does the trick.
2. Supersonic: Continues the momentum from the prior track without adding too much weight. Also, the hardest rocking track on the album deserves a bit more prominence than buried in the middle-end.
3. Got Some: I am a big proponent of placing the best songs on the album at 3-4 to give them their feature spot. These are the songs that drive in the proverbial RBIs and ultimately define an album.
4. Amongst the Waves: I feel like this song will get a bad rap because it is nestled next to "Unthought Known" on the original tracklist, and they sound kind of similar. Instead, it belongs here where it can breathe by itself. Speaking of breathing...
5. Just Breathe: After a few listens, it’s a really beautiful ballad. Take it away from its obvious Into the Wild origins and on its own, and it stands as a very well-done song. Belongs here to close out the first arc in the new tracklisting and to break the album in half.
6. The Fixer: Catchy, light and easy to listen to. Exactly what you need after the combined weight of "Amongst the Waves" and "Just Breathe.”
7. Unthought Known: This track will contrast wonderfully with "The Fixer," and gains a new place of prominence on the second half. Unattached to "Amongst the Waves,” it may secretly become your favorite track on the album, even if you never expected Vedder to yelp "gems and rhinestones!”
8. Force of Nature: After "Unthought Known,” some nice riffage will fit in nicely, and the momentum from the prior two tracks will keep you foot tapping to this one as well.
9. Speed of Sound: The secret to this particular track is its sequencing — what it follows and what follows it. It has some complexity and some good imagery, but it suffers on the original album of being after the loudest song, making it seem boring. It's not, and placed here after "Force of Nature" allows its layers to be appreciated a little more.
10. Johnny Guitar: A theme like this on a Pearl Jam song, coupled with its continual and almost uncomfortable shifts feels best near the end. Like letting Stone sing, or some real experiments by the band (see "Push Me Pull Me,” "Aye Davanita,” or "Soon Forget.”, it just fits better near the close of the album to give it a jolt of different energy.
11. The End: Fantastic album closer, especially with the abrupt ending to the song, as well as the theme it covers. It will also benefit from the contrast of "Johnny Guitar.”
So give it a shot, and maybe you'll be giving Backspacer the five-star review you've been dying to give it since you heard they were recording with Brendan O'Brien again. You'd be amazed how patterning a Pearl Jam album after the ones before it gives it the life it was missing.