2024, Music

Dark Matter (2024) by Pearl Jam

I love the first 15 years of Pearl Jam’s career pretty damn unconditionally. Even albums I didn’t love on first listen (Yield, Riot Act), I now quite like. But I definitely do not feel the same way about the last 15 years. I have liked none of their last four albums remotely as much as I do their first 8. Upon listening back to the last three, I do find myself enjoying parts of them more than when I first heard them, so maybe it’s just a familiarity issue. But it might be also that my tastes have changed or I only need so much Pearl Jam in my head.

The album feels a little more urgent than some, though not all, of the previous records. Certainly the first two tracks announce themselves as Pearl Jam with the urgency that you would expect from a younger band.

But this good well is dashed pretty much immediately on “Wreckage,” a naked tribute to Full Moon Fever-era Tom Petty. I have some antipathy to Jeff Lynne, particularly how he does backing vocals. And I can tell you that one think I don’t like my favourite bands doing is performing Jeff Lynne-esque backing vocals.

Some of the production choices – such as on the title track – remind me of the kind of attempts to experiment that initially put me off Yield and the last two records. These are things I usually get over but, for some reason, I’m always a little bit annoyed whenever Pearl Jam try to expand their sound using production as opposed to, say, just genre or style. (“Wreckage” excluded, obviously.) The title track feels like it lacks a great riff and editing has been used to help fix that. Another example: “Won’t Tell” has echoes of The Cure, not in the song itself or Vedder’s singing (unlike the Byrne imitation on “Dance of the Clairvoyants”) but rather in the production and the closing guitar bit.

I guess I just find myself having the same shoulder-shrug reaction to this like the last three. It sounds like Pearl Jam. Some of the songs are among their better songs of the last 15 years and some are definitely not. I’m left wondering if I just don’t care any more or if I just need to listen to these four albums as much as I’ve listened to the first eight in order for me to like them as much. That’s very unlikely at this point.


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