Seattle acclaimed rock band, Pearl Jam, has finally released their first official single off their highly anticipated new studio album “Gigaton”. The new song “Dance of Clairvoyants” has already caused a lot of controversy in less than 24 hours that it has been released into the world.
Some context is important before we dive into personal opinions. Pearl Jam has been together for 30 years, despite the “frequent” change in drummers in the first 10 years of the group, Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and Jeff Ament have stood together in solid formation for three decades. In those 30 years, the 4 (plus the later additions of long-time Seattle friend and former Soundgarden member, Matt Cameron and personal friend of Vedder’s, Boom Gaspar.) have released ten studio LP’s, as well as hundreds (and I mean HUNDREDS) of live albums… that is a lot of music under the belt.
In the early years, the band was considered one-fourth of the “Big Seattle Four” and since this label, there has been a lot of expectations that the band has to be hard rock like their counterparts: Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Nirvana. The fans of Pearl Jam are also known to be frequent listeners of fellow “hard rock” (aka grunge) music, and therefore furthering this expectation that Pearl Jam is also a hard rock band.
Realistically, this is not true. Consider this, Pearl Jam release their debut record “Ten” in 1991 – that makes the band all-around 26-29 years old at the time of this event. This critically acclaimed album, and the 4 albums that had been released in the following 7 years after Ten, carried the same raw energy that followed the Seattle Sound energy that some of you may know better as “grunge”. It was passionate, honest, and in-your-face loud.
Despite this, after the release of the band’s 5th LP “Yield” in 1998, there was a significant shift in the band’s music. There were still “hard rock” songs, but it was evident that the group wanted to create more music that was suitable for them as they grew up. Yet, for whatever reason, the fans and casual listeners of Pearl Jam, still expected frontman Eddie Vedder to climb stage lights, stage dive off of cranes, and can hit the notes he did in the 90s.
The band is now in their fifties, they are parents, they’ve lost a majority of their Seattle musician friends to depression, drugs… To put it short they have, not only, accomplished a lot, but also seen a lot. They’re not who they were 30 years ago. It is not horrifying that these humans no longer write the way they used to, let alone exhausted from creating the same way they have for thirty years. It is only expected that they want to do something different, try new sounds, etc.
This brings us to today, January 22nd, 2020. Pearl Jam dropped their first official single since 2013 (yes, we’re ignoring Christmas singles and “Can’t Deny Me” because it’s my page and I can do that).
Declaring that there have been mixed reactions to the tune is an understatement. The disco-dark-wave inspired the opening of the song “Dance of Clairvoyants” immediately threw a lot of people off — some people didn’t even get past it. However, at the 40-second mark, the guitars are in, and Eddie is in his passionate “growling” state that we all know and love.
Even I was a little thrown off at first, but the second I heard the guitar combined with the synth-sound, I immediately fell in love with it. Especially after the, uh, disastrous drop of Can’t Deny Me. To me, this saved the band — Since, Can’t Deny Me, was a weird take on more “classic” rock tropes. It is more instrumentally driven, which to me highlighted the band’s age.
Now, before, people come for my head, you have to remember that I am a massive fan of Pearl Jam. They are in my top 5 all-time favourite bands, so I am not saying this to date the band, or say that they are overrated. I am simply stating the same facts I stated in my context, the band can not do what they did 30 years ago, it’s just not physically possible for them. This is why I whole-heartedly believe that “Dance of Clairvoyants” is a solid representation of how the band can take some pieces of their older style: Passionate political lyrics, melodic driven instruments, all the while having the guts to not be afraid to make music they’re proud of… Rather than simply release another below-average hard-rock song, simply because that is what is expected of them.
The people that don’t like this song are most likely the same people that are afraid to admit that they have “pop” music saved in their library. As well as those that act like it’s “guilty pleasure” to like musicians that are played on the radio.
Someone asked me, if I were to pretend that this song was not a Pearl Jam song, but instead a song by an unknown band that I do not have an attachment to, would I still like it? My answer is, yes. Why? Because I don’t restrict my enjoyment of music to a specific genre. If it makes me groove… I can’t deny it (ha, pun). There is no denying that the song is melodic and catchy. So, instead, I throw the question back at the more-elitist and possessive Pearl Jam fans: “If you were to pretend that this song was not a Pearl Jam song, but instead a song by an unknown band that you do not have an attachment/expectation to, would you still like it ?”
I did not listen to the song with an expectation, most-likely because I was half-asleep and jet-lagged, so I was able to take the song for what it was and forget that it was the first Pearl Jam song in 7 years. This allowed me to go into the first listening experience open-minded and allow the song to soak into my brain at face value.
My initial reaction was that “Dance of Clairvoyants” is a clever combination of disco-pop, and hard-rock. Talking Heads anyone? You could call “Dance of Clairvoyants” a 21-st century relative to “Psycho Killer”… It’s retro, yet fresh.
With all that being said, I’m not going to lie and say “ah yes, this is exactly what I expected considering their age” because there are bands in their “middle ages” that can still serve hard-rock.
Nevertheless, when I saw the band in 2018, it was evident in Eddie’s voice that there is no way he can serve 3 hours of hard-rock music and still have a voice to carry on, on a full-blown tour. That’s not to say that he can’t put on a high-energy performance with incredible vocals, because he can and he did, but that was because he would avoid the heavier vocal parts and the band changed tempos here and there to mould their older work to their current-day situation. It’s natural y’all, people get old(er).
Therefore, “Dance of Clairvoyants” is what I see as the best way the band can preserve their image. It’s guitar-driven, it has the classic Vedder passionate vocals, political anthem aspects, but it’s slowed down, groovier, and a representation of the 6-pieces current lifestyle.
Thus, I leave you with this, you put the song on a loop for ~15 minutes and you’ll find yourself jamming along. Block out your expectations of the band, your attachment to their earlier records and listen to the song for what it’s offering you. I guarantee you that you, too, will conclude that it’s too much of a groovy song for you to not enjoy.
This has built my hype for the new LP, I just wish I could catch them on tour this year, so I can hear the songs live!
Until next time Interwebs! 🕸
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