Pearl Jam's latest album doesn't quite sound like an average Pearl Jam album, and it's all the better for it. Indeed, Backspacer, with producer Brendan O'Brien at the helm for the first time since 1998's Yield, brings something new to the table: the sound of Pearl Jam having fun. With Bush out and Obama in, Pearl Jam put the brooding on hold and crank up the amps, resulting in an album that bristles with an upbeat and infectious energy that's part punk, part old-fashioned rock. Eddie Vedder's lyrics also follow suit - more personal and introspective than political, and refreshingly optimistic.
The stellar opening trio of "Gonna See My Friend", "Got Some" and lead single "The Fixer" establish a momentum that carries through the album's surprisingly short but sharp 36 minutes. Even the minor detours are welcome, particularly "Just Breathe", an acoustic-based love song reminiscent of Vedder's work on the Into the Wild soundtrack. Heartfelt and tender but not overly saccharine, it's one of the most strikingly gorgeous tunes of the band's career.
Perhaps only time will tell for sure, but there's enough immediate winners here to nominate Backspacer as one of Pearl Jam's most solid - and certainly most focused and concise - albums.