Long ago, during a brief “ecstasy phase,” Eddie Vedder tried to write some techno music. “I was listening to all this stuff on ecstasy,” he told me in 2006, during an all-night chat in a Cleveland hotel room. “But I was wondering, ‘Are they writing it on ecstasy?’ I decided that the pure way to do it is to actually take ecstasy, and then write ecstasy music. That didn’t work out. But I enjoyed the ecstasy.” Around the same time, guitarist Stone Gossard revealed a desire to experiment with Pearl Jam’s sound — if it were up to him, he said, the band might record a song or two that sounded like Steely Dan.
The band’s shockingly light-on-its-feet new single, “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” from March 27th’s Gigaton, doesn’t sound anything like either “ecstasy music” or Steely Dan, but it is definitely the band’s funkiest song in forever, with an obvious debt to Talking Heads (Vedder comes close, at points, to an actual David Byrne impression, which somehow works) rather than the Jane’s Addiction/Red Hot Chili Peppers vein the band liked to tap back in the days when Jeff Ament was borrowing his hats from Strawberry Shortcake.
There are also welcome touches of mid-’00s dance rock, with guitar stabs that could be off Franz Ferdinand’s debut (or perhaps from Vedder faves the Strokes) alongside what sounds like a mix of live and programmed drums and a striking bass line played by Gossard. It’s also illustrative of Pearl Jam’s continuing commitment to anti-commercial perversity that they’d choose to release one of their most radio-friendly songs of the century now, when the prospect of Top 40 radio playing Pearl Jam is about as likely as MTV rehiring Kennedy for an Alternative Nation revival.
In 2013, on the eve of the release of the band’s last album, Lightning Bolt, Vedder told me that his goal for every Pearl Jam release, even now, is to top the rest of the band’s catalog. The vibrancy of “Dance,” alongside quotes from band members suggesting the song, co-produced by the band and longtime engineer Josh Evans, was a true collaboration, are welcome signs that — despite fears that solo projects, touring, and family life were taking priority over new music — they’re still trying.
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