Album "Dark Matter"

Pearl Jam: Focus on their core competencies

18.04.2024 09:00

The electronic experiments on their last full-length album "Gigaton" didn't delight fans, and Pearl Jam also canceled their planned Vienna Stadthalle concert in 2022 at five past twelve. Forgiven and forgotten, because with "Dark Matter", the grunge legends from Seattle made a rocking comeback that was no longer to be expected.

Grunge veterans Pearl Jam's last contact with Austria was a little more uplifting. Eight years after their last appearance at the Wiener Stadthalle, Eddie Vedder and co. were due to perform at the same venue again in July 2022. The band had already been in a Vienna city center hotel the day before, the concert had been completely sold out for months and the first fans from various European countries were already getting ready to spend their evening of the year on the hot summer day in the afternoon. The bad news came when admission to the Stadthalle had already begun. The concert was canceled at the very last minute due to Vedder's persistent vocal problems, which apparently could not even be remedied by doctors consulted at short notice. Much to the annoyance of the thousands and thousands of fans, as the band did not put in a later alternative date.

The shock is still deep
Almost two years later, the healing process has long since taken place. Eddie's voice is back to its former strength and the not unjustified anger of some fans has subsided. Shit Happens, you could also say about the incident. Let's just get on with it. Pearl Jam have brought themselves back into the public eye in recent months with two more than official singles. "Dark Matter" and the rough, almost post-punk "Running" showed the legends from Seattle to be more rocking and uncompromising than they have been for a long time. The loyal fans' fear of new songs was not exactly small. The shock of the half-baked predecessor "Gigaton" was still too great. There, Pearl Jam experimented with synth and electronic elements, losing sight of their rock'n'roll core competence and meandering aimlessly in the swamp of arbitrariness.

Fortunately, Eddie Vedder realized soon enough that this excursion into unfamiliar genres was not as well received as he had hoped. The course correction on "Dark Matter", only the twelfth studio album in the band's 34 years, is tantamount to a return to his own strengths, which will not only please long-time die-hard fans, but also those contemporaries who are all too happy to gasp and scream the final demise of rock music into the virtual ether of this world. Responsible for the sonic course correction is, of all people, star producer Andrew Watt, who has long since built his own monument with collaborations ranging from Justin Bieber and Dua Lipa to Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne to Elton John, Lana Del Rey and Mick Jagger. In the Californian Shangri-La studios of Rick Rubin, Watt had a trend-setting thought, as he revealed to the British music magazine "Mojo": "I thought about the fans' wishes when I was working."

Estate management and mission
Musicians with a self-imposed artistic agenda usually try to avoid this kind of fan servility as much as possible, but Pearl Jam, in addition to managing the hits from the great grunge years of the early 90s, are also concerned with being the last representatives of their guild to pant the remaining breath of a marauding sub-genre. Accordingly, the tendency to experiment has been completely put to one side and the focus has been placed on the core competence of the old days: thick riffs, Vedder's bell-clear voice and a guitar-supporting song structure that could cover any era of the band in its classic approach. This can be heard, for example, in the laid-back and incredibly intense "Wreckage", which is not far removed from the stadium rock classics of Bruce Springsteen in its wide-gauge style. By no means the worst comparison, especially as Pearl Jam already have one and a half feet in the legendary generation trench when compared internationally.

Contrary to their age, the band members hit the ground running right from the start. "Scared Of Fear" and "React, Respond" don't spend much time on self-reflection, but get straight down to business. The softer side, for which the Americans are actually better known, is only unpacked a little later. The wonderful, thoroughly American "Won't Tell" or the past-oriented "Something Special" stand out in particular. Less good is the sprawling "Upper Hand", which tries to do a little too much in too little time with weird guitars from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a build-up finish à la "Freebird" (Lynyrd Skynyrd). In "Waiting For Stevie", Vedder then swings back into sky-high vocal spheres, which he still seems to manage effortlessly even at almost 60.

Release party at Badeschiff
The rediscovered joy of playing and the return to a basic rock sound do "Dark Matter" a lot of good. Pearl Jam have rarely sounded so fresh and nostalgic at the same time in this millennium. What's more, the quintet doesn't fall into the trap of trying to chum up to some zeitgeist and getting lost along the way. It's forgivable that Eddie Vedder got carried away in the late euphoria and described "Dark Matter" as the "best album of his career". This is - with all due respect - with a CV that includes albums such as "Ten" (1991), "Vs. (1993) or "Vitalogy" (1994), this is of course nonsense. On Thursday (today) there will be a release party at Badeschiff in Vienna from 8pm. There, "Dark Matter" will celebrate its Austrian premiere at club volume. From midnight, fans can purchase the album on the spot, admission is free. However, a concert in Austria is still not in sight ...

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