Pearl Jam’s ‘Dark Matter’ turns rage into clarity

After over 33 years in the limelight, Pearl Jam’s cathartic brand of grunge rock still has teeth.
Arts & Culture

Dark Matter

Pearl Jam (Monkeywrench, 2024)

When you love a band, it can be a challenge to write about them. I have seen Pearl Jam live in concert at least six times and know all their albums well. If you don’t understand the draw, you need to realize this: As musical performers, their goal is to connect with the audience via catharsis, protest, and hope. No frills, minimal production, just the music and the mystery of authentic human connection.

When promoting Dark Matter, frontman Eddie Vedder remarked, “I would recommend you play it loud, like, really loud.” This is important, because one thing that Pearl Jam understands well is the cleansing power of the sonic soundscape they inherited and continue to develop. This is best captured in the lyrics for “Got to Give” (“I’ll be the last one standing / I’ll be the first to forgive, yeah / Give it away empty-handed / Breaks in my heart ’til something gives”) and the scorching second track “React, Respond” (“Turn this anger into / Nuclear fission / . . . Don’t react, respond”).

As their career has reached an unlikely longevity over 33 years, on Dark Matter Pearl Jam continues to remain hopeful in a bewildering world of beauty and brokenness. This has been the unique musical space that the band has been carving out in the landscape of what now is called alternative rock. They began as part of the grunge explosion from the Pacific Northwest. As the years went by, they layered loud, fast, rhythmic, heavily distorted guitar rock with Vedder’s sometimes angry, sometimes hopeful, sometimes vulnerable baritone.

In a 1998 interview, Vedder observed that “what was rage in the past has become reflection.” More than 25 years later, this is a great description of Dark Matter. Play it loud. Play it often. Let the beautiful noise flow.


This article also appears in the July 2024 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 89, No. 7, page 38). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/deep_schismic (CC BY 2.0)

About the author

Kevin P. Considine

Kevin P. Considine is the director of the Robert J. Schreiter Institute for Precious Blood Spirituality and adjunct assistant professor in systematic theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

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