Pearl Jam has nothing left to prove, and that can be liberating. After you’ve sold millions of albums and essentially defined an entire movement, you can afford to do whatever you feel like doing. For a while, that meant throwing in weird experimental flourishes among straight-ahead rock songs, fighting unwinnable battles against huge faceless corporations and making political statements as often as making music.
Pearl Jam has eased further and further into classic-rock respectability over the last several years, and new album Backspacer places the band squarely in dad-rock territory. There are no musical diversions here, just 11 simple rock tunes. Maybe it’s the change in political climate—no more angry rants against Bush-administration policies. Or maybe it’s that, in their mid-40s, Pearl Jam’s members have settled into a comfortable groove.
These songs are as solid and familiar as those on the band’s 2006 self-titled album, and the return of longtime producer Brendan O’Brien doesn’t appreciably change things. Lead single “The Fixer” is catchy and compact, ballad “Just Breathe” finds Eddie Vedder exuding a sweet vulnerability, and “Amongst the Waves” is engaging and life-affirming. It all blends seamlessly together and into the continuum the band has created over the years. There’s nothing new here, but at this point, does there need to be?