pearl jam backPearl Jam – Backspacer Gatefold Vinyl Edition (Universal)

We’ve had a week to judge whether this might well be the best Pearl Jam record we’ve ever heard and the verdict? It is.

Incredibly it sounds like the record Eddie Vedder and co. might have been expected to deliver at a time when hair metal dominated and grunge was in its infancy.

Influenced more by classic rock than the Seattle scene, it’s polished, often upbeat and always challenging. In fact, if you’ve always been put off Pearl Jam because of their roots then it’s time to give the band their due – and your time – in 2009.

If, on the other hand, you love Pearl Jam as the godfathers of grunge then you may well need to grapple with the past before embracing the future. It’s fair to say the band (or Vedder) has grown in leaps and bounds as a seriously ambitious songwriting power. There’s still the stark storytelling which made Ten such a treasure but Backspacer is a brave and often optimistic album.

Opener Gonna See My Friend sees Guns N Roses meet Nirvana in a magical mash-up which sets the spirited tone. The great riff and cool groove of Got Some moves things along nicely while lead single The Fixer is clearly influenced by the best in British guitar bands.

Of the six songs which spill across Side A on the vinyl edition Johnny Guitar is the standout tune with Vedder at his balladeering best. But those searching for classic PJ will find it in Just Breathe – vintage Vedder and just about the best riff the band has conjured in its celebrated career.

Perhaps the biggest shock comes as you flip over to Side B. What follows is a stunning vocal and a track which moulds Keane, Coldplay and U2 with a touch of Seattle-inspired sensibility to create a soaring and soulful Unthought Known. Punk gets its opportunity to stride forth as Supersonic sees PJ step up the pace and Force Of Nature is a neat piece of classic rock work not too far removed from young US upstarts Black Stone Cherry. 

This is not the Pearl Jam record we were expecting but on reflection it’s blown us away. If variety is the spice of life then Vedder and his buddies must be in one cool place right now. And of course their best work just sounds so much better on a solid piece of vinyl.

Double vinyl would have been even better but you still get a beefy gatefold sleeve and, where that second disc should have been, a 12-inch booklet crammed full of original artwork and the words behind the songs. It’s a useful companion to the recently reissued and sumptuos Ten/1990-92 package and puts a vibrant band where they belong.

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Tasty Jam