Album cover of Pearl Jam - Dark Matter

PEARL JAM

Dark Matter
Monkeywrench 2024
Producer:
Andrew Watt

Side one:
1. Scared of Fear
2. React, Respond
3. Wreckage
4. Dark Matter
5. Won’t Tell

Side two:
1. Upper Hand
2. Waiting for Stevie
3. Running
4. Something Special
5. Got to Give
6. Setting Sun



MORE PEARL JAM

Pearl Jam - St. Paul 2023 Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.
Aug. 31 and Sept. 2, 2023

Pearl Jam - Mansfield 2003 Completing the experiment: Looking back at Pearl Jam’s massive Mansfield show
Pearl Jam - Québec City Centre Vidéotron, Québec City
Sept. 1, 2022

Pearl Jam - Glendale AZ Gila River Arena, Glendale, AZ
May 9, 2022

Pearl Jam - Gigaton Pearl Jam
Gigaton

Mansfield 2000 Night 43: A scorching introduction to Pearl Jam’s bootlegs
Pearl Jam - Home Shows Fenway Park, Boston
Sept 2 & 4, 2018
Pearl Jam - Home Shows Safeco Field, Seattle
Aug. 8 & 10, 2018
Nothing As It Seems 'Nothing As It Seems' and the Story of Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam - Wrigley 2016 Wrigley Field, Chicago
Aug. 20 & 22, 2016
Pearl Jam - Fenway 2016 Fenway Park, Boston
Aug. 5 & 7, 2016
Pearl Jam - New York City 2016 Madison Square Garden, New York
May 1, 2016
Pearl Jam - Moline 2014 iWireless Center, Moline, Ill.
Oct. 17, 2014

The years and miles lead Pearl Jam to triumph with Dark Matter

Front cover of Pearl Jam - Dark Matter

By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor

It should’ve been obvious. Absolutely and unequivocally obvious. From the first 30 seconds of this album, it should’ve been perfectly clear what was in store.

The music swells and builds, stirring anticipation before throwing open the doors to a damn behemoth of an album. Guitars kick out a groove, the drums slam in and the vocals chime in with an urgent question — “Did I say something wrong?”

After multiple listens and a few moments where I had to stop and compose myself, the answer is no. Pearl Jam has delivered a new album, Dark Matter, that has the potential to upend their catalog in the best way possible. In their 34th year, the band has a beast of a record on its hands.

Coming on the heels of Eddie Vedder’s solo Earthling and the seven-year wait that eventually gave the world Gigaton in 2020, Dark Matter arrives amid of flurry of accolades. One listen through, and it’s understandable where that critical consensus is coming from. Twice through, and the album digs its claws in. Past those mile markers, I was wondering what was it was going to take to kick this album out of my headphones.

There are themes of endurance scattered throughout the 11 tracks here. The opening “Scared of Fear” finds Vedder lamenting the death of a scene and the loss of a companion, and references the cathartic final track, “Setting Sun,” where, finally, he’s left to ask, “am I the only one hanging on?”

It’s not hard to look at Pearl Jam and see a band of survivors, a group that has somehow successfully navigated a tumultuous three decades. Where their peers broke up and came back together and broke up again, or simply died, this band is still standing. And where those questions might have bubbled up here and there on previous records, it’s explicit on Dark Matter. And the music is better for that acknowledgement.

Not that they didn’t have a helping hand in that effort. For the first time in their recording career, the band seems to have consciously looked back in an effort to dial into their strengths, leaning into what made them such a powerhouse early on, with the twist of more than 30 years together to inform the music. It’s not unlike how producer Don Was refocused the Rolling Stones while making 1994’s Voodoo Lounge — that record was vital and modern while sounding like no one but the Stones. Here, Andrew Watt has accomplished the same feat with Pearl Jam. He got the band writing live together, funneling their talents into one direction and, ultimately, one set of songs that are solid from track one to 11. It’s not that all their previous albums have been lackluster, but on Dark Matter, there’s an urgency that’s palpable. And there’s hardly any fat to be trimmed.

So the result is familiar, but still shockingly new. “React, Respond” is singularly Pearl Jam, but they haven’t ripped through a track this cutting and jagged since 2006’s self-titled Pearl Jam. “Waiting for Stevie” is absolutely the product of the current band, but it won’t be strange in the least to hear it in a live context between songs from 1991’s Ten or 1998’s Yield. It’s anthemic and rousing in the specific way only their songs have the ability to be. The lead single, “Dark Matter,” was mammoth when it was released two months ahead of the record. But within the context of the rest of the album, it somehow wields a heavier hammer than before. This thing is a monster, complete with Vedder sounding as wild as ever and Mike McCready playing the role of the guitar god he’s always been. Anchor all this around a thundering Matt Cameron drum loop and it’s a recipe for perhaps their strongest group track of their latter-day career.

It’s not all rippers here. “Upper Hand” opens with another brooding swell of music that could’ve been on Pink Floyd’s Animals, before giving way to a Beatles-esque arrangement. By the time we arrive at “Setting Sun,” the listener has been taken on a 48-minute journey that rivals any the band has engineered yet. And again, we’re back to a variation on the initial question and theme that Vedder posed at the beginning — “Am I the only one hanging on?” This time, though, there’s more confidence in the outcome, with Vedder and the rest of the band hanging onto optimism and a call for action, repeating, “let us not fade,” as the record draws to a close.

So here we are. Thirty three years after Ten landed with its compatriots to turn rock and roll upside down, the greatest survivors of that generation deliver a twelfth album that sits proudly in the catalog, another entry worthy of their legacy and another marker along the long road from there to here. These songs will no doubt stand on their own in their live set. A few of them might cause speeding tickets down highways scattered across the continent. Others will be late night companions. But they’re all hanging together to create a classic deserving of the band’s name.

I’m aware I have a history of enjoying most of their stuff, to put it very mildly. Feel free to take that bias and these words with a grain of salt, then. But this album feels different than their past few efforts. There’s an urgency to the entire affair that’s difficult to pin down. But halfway through my third time listening to “Waiting for Stevie,” around the album’s halfway mark, I felt a rush that I haven’t in years. From that song’s chunky opening chords courtesy of Stone Gossard, to Eddie Vedder’s soaring chorus vocals to Mike McCready’s wailing solo, anchored by Jeff Ament’s and Matt Cameron’s furious fills, and ... it’s so dumb, but I felt like a kid. I actually started to tear up, because this track, and the album in total, is absolutely glorious.

I felt ridiculous. But I was listening to the new Pearl Jam album, and it was kicking my ass. It’s as simple as that.

E-mail Nick Tavares at nick@staticandfeedback.com