Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Album Review: Pearl Jam - Dark Matter

Pearl Jam
Dark Matter
***and1/2 out of *****

Back in 2020 Pearl Jam released Gigaton and RtBE asked what exactly is needed from a new Pearl Jam album, comparing that record to late era Rolling Stones releases. Since then, the Stones themselves released an album and we sorta asked the same thing. Now Pearl Jam returns with Dark Matter, bringing onboard the exact same producer the Stones used, and the questions continue.  

For these legacy rock acts, will new songs ever compare to the back catalog that fans have lived with and sung in massive arenas for decades? Probably not. However, for this go around the veterans in Pearl Jam (Eddie Vedder – lead and backing vocals, guitar, piano Mike McCready – guitar, piano Stone Gossard – guitar Jeff Ament – bass guitar, guitar, baritone guitar, backing vocals (on "Running") Matt Cameron – drums, percussion) deliver a solid collection and a few tunes may actually hold their own next to the band's well-loved numbers down the road. 

Two of those that immediately spring to the head of the pack is "Upper Hand" and "Waiting For Stevie", taking different routes to stand out. On "Upper Hand" the band's organ work with spacey sounds infiltrate the proceedings with Pink Floyd like prog-vibes before exhaling in classic Pearl Jam style, wandering with ease and rock strength/vulnerability as it flows forward. "Waiting For Stevie" on the other hand goes right to PJ's wheelhouse as an anthemic rocker taking chunky riffs and pairing them with big bass, drums, and a soaring solo custom made to wrap up a festival set, before the band tacks on an odd ending that may or may not show up live.

Where the recent Rolling Stones effort was wrapped up tight in a modern sound by producer (as well as credited songwriter) Andrew Watt, his influence on PJ is different, trying more to get them to return to their heyday. The sound is crisp yet not overly modern, in fact "Something Special" plays like a throwback John Lennon solo song with layered vocals and easy flowing charm. Perhaps the finale "Setting Sun" is overblown a bit, but Pearl Jam themselves have never been known for understatements.   

The opening "Scared of Fear" uses swirling sounds to start but moves directly into the hard rock with a catchy chorus from Vedder whose voice has not lost a step. The band is always game to flirt with punk sounds (here on the slamming "Running") but on Dark Matter they also drop a topnotch post-punk influenced number "Respect, Respond" which has some dance ready riffs buried in the rock as the grooves bump and a killer guitar solo closes things. 

The maudlin "Wreckage" is a bit too much, but it is the only effort that feels this way as "Got To Give" earns it's full blown climax and the pop influenced "Won't Tell" gets in and gets out without feeling overly drawn out. The excellent title track thumps and bangs with a great groove and ripping riffs, energetic and touching all the right notes you would want a new PJ title track to soar towards.     

Overall Dark Matter is much stronger than what was expected from the longtime rockers as Pearl Jam sounds locked in and moving forward with confidence on their best album since 2006's self-titled release
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