Pearl Jam: 'Back' To The Future
Pearl Jam: 'Back' To The Future

For radio promotion, Curtis hired a team of indies to promote "The Fixer" at various formats, including former Epic promotion vet Laura Curtin, who worked "Ten" nearly 20 years ago. Alternative, active rock and triple A stations took the lead on playing the single during the week ending July 26, with Los Angeles' KROQ leading the way with 58 plays, WAAF in Boston with 45 plays, and Seattle KISW and KNDD with 44 and 43 plays each, according to Nielsen BDS.

Industry observers are obviously curious to see how Pearl Jam's plan plays out. If successful, it could inspire a host of established bands to try a similar approach, according to Tsunami Entertainment president Bruce Kirkland, who has helped negotiate numerous exclusives between artists and big boxes, including the Pearl Jam/Target pairing.

"Any artist that can tour without support and has a base is well-served by this system," he says, pointing to Wal-Mart's deals with the Eagles and Garth Brooks. "For them, the record is a marketing tool for other revenue-generating opportunities. It is a no-brainer. It's a perfect deal in that sense. The financial upside is cutting out a lot of the middle pieces. I like the model because it basically puts more money into marketing, which is a big piece missing from labels these days, and there's a better bottom line for the artist."

Others are impressed that Pearl Jam has been able to create synergy among such a disparate roster of partners. "They're playing ball with the big boys," one former major-label executive says. "This isn't like some other bands, who self-released music online and then followed it up at retail months later. They picked major partners, because this is still a major band."

"It's a really interesting time right now," Anthony says. "It's a time of opportunity where a lot of the distribution and marketing platforms are open directly to the artists. That has never really happened before. Even five or six years ago, it didn't matter how big of an artist you were. You could not make a direct deal with Wal-Mart, Target or Best Buy. Now, you can create the partnerships that are right for you."

As Pearl Jam reinvented its business, it turned to a familiar face when it came time to record: Brendan O'Brien. The band recorded "Backspacer" in Los Angeles and Atlanta with the producer, who also worked on "Vs." and "Vitalogy" but hadn't produced a Pearl Jam album since 1998's "Yield."

Pearl Jam's members quickly realized what they'd been missing, as O'Brien provided crucial input on arrangements; played piano, keyboard and percussion; and put together orchestrations for delicate Vedder songs like the acoustic guitar-powered "Just Breathe" and the gut-punch finale "The End."

"He does those melodic things from his musician brain first, and then he's able to layer them within the music with his producer brain," Cameron says. "He uses both sets of skills in a way that most producers aren't even able to do." O'Brien's efficiency rubbed off on the band, according to Gossard. "We made this faster than we've made any record," he says. "We were 30 days in the studio total, including mix. I think we had 90% of the record cut in the first nine days."