Butler: Pearl Jam’s Dark Matter among the band’s ‘best, most cohesive records’

Apr 19, 2024, 7:34 AM | Updated: Apr 30, 2024, 11:17 pm

pearl jam dark matter...

Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam performs live on stage at Moody Center on September 18, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Jim Bennett, Getty Images)

(Photo: Jim Bennett, Getty Images)

So often, new music from heritage artists is deeply disappointing and lacks the vitality that made you fall in love with their music in the first place. Ask any serious Metallica fan how they feel about St. Anger or that album they did with Lou Reed. Can’t remember the title? There’s a reason for that. No matter the level of success, time inevitably wears on and, frankly, some don’t have the material to maintain relevance as long as they’d like.

One of the biggest bands that put the world’s ears in tune with Seattle, Pearl Jam, has been together since 1990. And for us long-term fans, the prospect of a new album — their twelfth studio release titled “Dark Matter” — is both a reminder of their classics that changed our lives and a curiosity to hear if the fire still burns as brightly after more than three decades.

More on ‘Dark Matter’: Pearl Jam to embark on global 2024 tour for new album “Dark Matter”

Part of the greatness of Pearl Jam as a band and Eddie Vedder as a vocalist is how textured their music has been, ranging from the generational angst of their debut album “Ten” to more experimental sounds found on “No Code” and “Binaural.” At its core, Pearl Jam always had closer ties to the fundamentals of classic rock than many of their peers, with obvious nods to greats like Neil Young (who they backed on Mirror Ball) The Who and Jimi Hendrix.

On “Dark Matter,” every element is in play and blends brilliantly. And those classic rock roots are the foundation of some of the best tunes on the album, along with the thrashing rhythms of classic punk and, when it’s needed, just enough new wave polish to achieve a brilliant shine.

Vedder has said that he thinks “Dark Matter” is the band’s best work. You may or may not agree, but it’s certainly one of their best and most cohesive records. There’s no filler here and Andrew Watt’s production is impeccable.

Some of the early favorites are “Wreckage,” a mid-tempo number with definite shades of the late Tom Petty and “Something Special,” a catchy roots-rock tune Vedder wrote for his two daughters, Olivia and Harper. The heavier tracks are equally great, with the title cut, album opener “Scared of Fear” and “Running” as some of the album’s signature moments and standouts. Vedder’s lyrics and his cadence are at their strongest on the anthemic “React, Respond.”

More from Matt Butler: Which artists, groups belong on Seattle’s music Mount Rushmore

One of the more cynical knocks on Vedder from some critics was his earnestness. Even in his youth,  unlike some of his more nihilistic counterparts, he believed there was something worth fighting for and he was here to give voice to it. Thankfully that sincerity and drive survived a scene that lost so many, and still serves as a rallying cry against the cynicism of our times.

Dark Matter is a no-skip album in an era of easily forgotten digital dreck, and already one of my favorites of the year.

Pearl Jam is set to play two sold-out shows at Climate Pledge Arena May 28 and 30 as part of their global “Dark Matter” tour.

Matt Butler is the producer for “KIRO Nights with Jake Skorheim” and a contributing writer to MyNorthwest.

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Butler: Pearl Jam’s Dark Matter among the band’s ‘best, most cohesive records’