While keeping a relative low-profile of late, the Eddie Vedder alternative rock band, Pearl Jam is set to return with a new album in 2020. The album is called Gigaton and fans were treated to its first single Dance of the clairvoyants (Mach 1). Judging by the titles, are fans in for some serious navel-gazing?
Dance of the clairvoyants hints at new-wave and funk
The answer to that last question is most likely “No”. While Pearl Jam are, perhaps, the last survivors of serious 90s rock bands, their most recent single displays a band relieved from much of the pressure that surely weighed on previous releases.
After all, the Eddie Vedder fronted group, were cast firmly into the spotlight from the very release of their debut album Ten. Since then, each new release has been destined to be compared to the artistic and commercial heights reached on that album.
Their commercial appeal was, in fact, one of Pearl Jam’s less treasured aspects, at least, by the alternative rock community, with even Kurt Cobain once calling the group corporate grunge.
For their part, the group has made it a career of defying expectations, going out on interesting tangents on many of the albums that followed up Ten. Acoustic numbers, avantgarde recitals, and punk rock have adorned many of their mid-period releases.
Dance of the clairvoyants hints towards that, albeit with one difference. While the statue of Pearl Jam’s achievement is firmly on display, their potential of generating a radio-friendly single concern few at the moment. Where once the Seattle band had made experimentation a vehicle to express their dissatisfaction with fame, it now seems that they are simply chasing their interests without much concern to the consequences.
What are Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament listening to in 2020?
The good news is that the Pearl Jam members seem to be listening to the same music they’ve always enjoyed. However, this time around, the influences sneak into their own composition more clearly.
The vocal mannerisms of Dance of the clairvoyants clearly echo David Byrne’s singing on latter-day Talking Heads albums. Jeff Ament’s bass line is funky and prevalent, something which he had restrained himself to do on recent albums. The guitar tones of Mike McCready and Stone Gossard don’t so much tear at the shreds as they weave.
Even in 2020, a new Pearl Jam album is an event. The group has released numerous alternative rock classics over the years. And, while their first albums carry many of the group’s signature songs, it also true that since the early 2000s they have put out occasionally great songs.
The band has also become something akin to a modern-day, grunge era, Grateful Dead. Their live presence is enjoyed by a host of fans with the type of reverence reserved for very few other groups.
It’s true, there have been some lacklustre moments, as well in recent history, albeit no trainwrecks. There’s also the matter of Eddie Vedder’s personal fame and his willingness to champion various causes, which have threatened to turn Pearl Jam in the eyes of the general public into a U2-like, self-important rock group.
With all that being said, Gigaton has the potential of being one more solid release in a catalog that is damn impressive, if not flawless. To their credit, unlike many of their peers, Pearl Jam do not merely exist to sell tickets on a nostalgia factor, they are creating music and, for their fanbase at least, fighting to remain relevant in 2020. That’s all its fair their fans ask of then anyway.