“DD Review: Pearl Jam – Dark Matter.”

Score: 9/10

In my review of Pearl Jam’s 2020 “effort” Gigaton, I made the remark that not only did it fall well short of standard, but it represented a time to hit the panic button — that to repeat the present error of forced, contrived emotion and reductive song structures would be essentially to kill the band’s career and credibility. Right away on Dark Matter, apropos, things chime in gradually, with finesse and gravity, even approxomating Pink Floyd territory with an eerie pipe organ yielding a couple off-kilter, wayward synth intervals. It’s clear that the band have developed some ideas beyond just music for CSI: Miami

It seems natural, ultimately, that a significant chunk of Dark Matter commentary should center on Eddie Vedder. The singer has always had a dominant presence within his band (firing drummers, speaking out on politics, conspicuously going “in hiding” around ’96), and, at least to a greater extent than with Alice in Chains or Mudhoney, this has always seemed like HIS band. He’s always taken part in the songwriting, unlike Chris Cornell in his unit. 

And, sorry to get grim here, but he’s the only presently existing grunge frontmen out of the big four — Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. This is important, and it isn’t, depending on which angle you take in your examination. 

From the standpoint of emotional authenticity, anyway, we get some much-needed intimacy from Vedder, right away on opener “Scared of Fear”; which sounds more radio-ready than anything the band has done since “Nothing as it Seems”: “You’re hurting yourself, it’s plain to see / I think you’re hurting yourself just to hurt me / We used to laugh, we used to sing / We used to dance, we used to believe”. Finally mortal, and feeling every bit of it, Vedder is diagramming the pitfalls in his everyday life that he feels, I think, have the ability to eventually kill him. This, of course, makes for good copy, and if the way suave rock stars decay is with these menial little personal complications, rather than, say, temper tantrums and psychoses, then at least, on “Scared of Fear”; we listeners GET a legitimate snapshot of what’s going on in Vedder’s mind, hence potentiating the music, even if it isn’t quite on the dramatic level of the degraded histrionics associated with, say, Josh Homme, for one. 

There was one critic who approximated Dark Matter to an amalgamation of the millennial efforts Yield and Binaural. Personally, I hear the self-titled album (or “avocado” album) in full force, Dark Matter probably superseding that one for the consistent, multifarious energy and strong, bona fide Mike McCready presence. Standout “Wreckage” sidles along in midtempo, letting precocious emotion fill the song in as more than the sum of its parts, like “Parachutes”; and then, all over, the brisk, rocking grooves on which Vedder sounds perhaps a tad more tired and scared than on, say, “Spin the Black Circle” or “Whipping”; abound, recalling “World Wide Suicide”; “Unemployable” and the general, energetic but somehow geriatric interface of that record, as a whole. Here, anyhow, “Something Special” rocks in as a midtempo, 6/8 stomper, on which, again, Mike McCready races in front of the pack, here with some killer, psychedelic treatment on his rubber-fingered grooves. Stone Gossard deserves some serious props on rhythm guitar, too, especially on “Dark Matter”; on which a liquid-y, delayed whammy bar sets the stylistic benchmark. And as all Black Rebel Motorcycle Club fans know, whammy bar songs come most ideally at track four on a given album. Sequencing neuroses aside, Dark Matter is a dynamic, inspired rock album, a beloved return to form for Pearl Jam, and, perhaps bolstering our economy this year, a prime benefactor for rock radio. 


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