Pearl Jam cuts out the middleman with "Backspacer"

Tue Sep 1, 2009 9:08am EDT
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By Jonathan Cohen

NEW YORK (Billboard) - "Super poppy." "Just plain fun." "Surprisingly optimistic." "Catchy as hell." These are not phrases often used to describe Pearl Jam, the 30 million-selling purveyor of angst-ridden guitar rock now approaching its 19th year of existence.

And yet these are the words being used on blogs to describe "The Fixer," the first song from the Seattle rock band's ninth album, "Backspacer."

The track is a surging, '80s-style rocker written by drummer Matt Cameron.

You can't blame Cameron, singer Eddie Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament or guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready for smiling wider than usual. President George W. Bush, who the band vilified in song and onstage for eight years, is out of office. The group remains a huge touring draw and A-list festival headliner, having grossed nearly $42 million from 51 shows reported to Billboard Boxscore from 2006 to 2008. Vedder won a Golden Globe for his soundtrack to the 2007 movie "Into the Wild." Life is quieter on the homefront, too: Four of the five band members have children.

But Pearl Jam is also celebrating because it finally made good on a longstanding desire to release its music on its own, without the aid of a major label. "Backspacer" will come out September 20 in the United States through a creative patchwork of deals with physical and digital retailers, the most prominent of which is a one-off, big-box exclusive with Target. Internationally, Universal Music is the label for the release.

The Target partnership threw fans for a loop when the news leaked in June. At first glance the move seems at odds with a band whose DIY, fan-first business ethic has set it against corporate behemoths like Ticketmaster and AT&T. But as details began to emerge, it became clear that Pearl Jam struck a deal that rewards the band and its fans as much as it does the stores that sell its music.


Target agreed to let independent music retailers carry "Backspacer," a first for one of its exclusives. "Backspacer" will also be sold on Pearl Jam's Web site and at Apple's iTunes Music Store.   Continued...

<p>Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam performs at the taping of the third annual VH1 Rock Honors: The Who concert in Los Angeles July 12, 2008. The concert airs on VH1 on July 17. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>