Pearl Jam: Dark Matter (digital outlets)

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Got to Give
Pearl Jam: Dark Matter (digital outlets)

More than 20 years ago I had one of the more interesting interviews of my career. It was in 2002 in Seattle when I sat down with the members of Pearl Jam, and had a lengthy one-on-one with singer/writer Eddie Vedder who was serious at times and funny at others.

The complete transcript of the Vedder interview is here . . . and against the odds Pearl Jam are still here.

Think about it.

In rock culture where bands – through business frustrations, “musical differences”, fragile egos or competing personalities – implode or explode with predictable frequency, some remain resistant to the chaos.

You have to admire the tenacity of U2, Radiohead, Blur, the Bats and others for enduring against the odds.

And Pearl Jam who – 33 years after their debut album Ten and with a remarkably stable line-up – survived the lamentable attrition of overdoses and suicides which afflicted Seattle's grunge scene: Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone, Layne Staley (Alice in Chains), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots), Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age) . . .

Pearl Jam – average age 59 – may be senior statesmen but reach their 11th studio album Dark Matter sounding impressively muscular and match-fit.

Produced by Grammy-winning Andrew Watt -- last heard shaping the Rolling Stones' sound on Hackney Diamonds – Pearl Jam's Dark Matter opens with Scared of Fear and React, Respond which throw down the gauntlet of uncompromising rock.

The former harks back to the dense, punk-metal noise of the Melvins, Hüsker Dü and early 1980s bands on the SST label. The latter, with towering riffery, akin to Led Zeppelin after an almighty hit of something highly addictive with Eddie Vedder screaming, “when what you get is what you don't want, don't react. Respond”.

In this aggressive double punch, Pearl Jam serve notice they're still a hard rock band wearing its beliefs and emotions like an open carry weapon.

Few wouldn't shout “AC/DC” when the riff driving the socio-political observations of the angry title track kicks in: “Once heard it said and it stuck in my head/ arrested the press/no one knows what happened next”.

However Waiting for Stevie is overwrought where – as happens too often here – furious lead guitar sucks up all the breathing space. And Running is a punkish thrash.

But elsewhere emotions and volume are more contained. Won't Tell is a widescreen ballad (“as she pulled the book up off the shelf/her dressing gown and nothing else”), Wreckage (“surrounded by the remnants what we could and couldn’t have”) and Got to Give – rowdy though they may be – remind you Pearl Jam craft impressive pop melodies.

There's also the folksy swagger of Something Special where Vedder speaks directly to his daughters and by implication his audience (“if the night grows long/not feeling loved/I will be there”) and the final track Setting Sun starts in acoustic mood but concludes with the desperate sounding “let us not fade, let us not fade”.

Upper Hand – a power ballad ruined by guitar excess – is revealing, a band aware of where it is in the grand scheme: “the distance to the end is closer now/than it’s ever been/the road we traveled far/all the lights and sights we saw/no room left on the pages . . .”

Dark Matter finds Pearl Jam relevant and still standing when so many others have fallen.

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