Analogue Music | Pearl Jam - Dance of the Clairvoyants
Pearl Jam - Dance of the Clairvoyants

Pearl Jam - Dance of the Clairvoyants

Artist: Pearl Jam · Written by Matt Conner Scott Elingburg

Date Released

24 January, 2020

"Stand back when the spirit comes."

The closing, oft-repeated refrain of Pearl Jam's new single, "Dance of the Clairvoyants." the first off of their forthcoming album, Gigaton, feels like a signpost, something at which any of us could point to begin to understand this musical left turn from one of rock and roll's remaining pillars.

If you've yet to hear Pearl Jam's dynamic new single, please by all means stop reading and take all of it in, beginning to end. It's the most arresting and interesting thing put out by Eddie Vedder and company in a decade. (Honestly, pick any amount of time since this track; it is seriously as inspired as anything in their hallowed Hall of Fame catalog.)

If anything, this iteration of Pearl Jam as a unit writing, recording, rehearsing and touring is a possessed one. "Clairvoyants" slides in on a tidal wave-sized bass line, centered below Matt Cameron's sharp drum snaps. Cameron and bassist Jeff Ament have always been the unsung steady hands of PJ. Together they make the foundation, an anchored slate on which all of Mike McCready and Stone Gossard's guitar pyrotechnics can burn brightest. "Clairvoyants" is only slightly different and all the more special because Gossard draws bass duties on the track and the proficient (occasionally fretless) sounds from regular-bassist Jeff Ament are swapped out for a novice player. It works, too. Gossard's rhythm is smoother and ironed out. PJ took a chance on a new approach, veered into a new lane and came up with gold.

Whereas the typical PJ formula mostly relies on classic rock guitar showmanship, McCready rips through four minutes of angled, post-punk Gang of Four guitar riffs with enough warmth, compression and treble to echo the dormant ghosts of The Minutemen and an immediate post-Beatles John Lennon. Only Cameron--an absolute beast of a drummer--gets to show off his chops with a few barren cymbal crashes and more than a few double snare snaps.

The rest of the song, however, belongs to Eddie Vedder.

Vedder channels the long-sought ghost of David Byrne about midway through "Clairvoyants." After that, it's no stretch to envision him jerking around onstage in an oversized suit singing, "Not one man / can be greater than the sum / that's not a negative thought / I'm positive, positive, positive."

But "Clairvoyants" doesn't sound like an exercise in homage or a new experiment that band stumbled into out of boredom. Instead, it sounds like Pearl Jam woke up with a relentless, indefeasible spirit of triumph and euphoria after slogging through a few years in the wilderness. This is still a recognizable version of Pearl Jam, but it's a version of the band that cast off the burdens of stagnation and found God in the grooves of their favorite 70s new wave records. Positive indeed.

For the audience, the experience is just as religious, the senses rejoicing as Vedder preaches, "So save your predictions and burn your assumptions." The musical flourishes, the irresistible bass line, the brilliant percussive pattern will work long-time listener into a Pentecostal frenzy. This isn't a legendary band showing us they've got something in reserve, nor is it an unexpected surprise from a known entity. This is transcendent, a 30-year-old band discovering something altogether new. It's exhilarating on all sides, even baffling for those on the outside wondering just where this sonic step came from.

Perhaps it's the work of the spirit. Or is that Spirit? Either way, Pearl Jam was never even close to dead, but they've experienced a resurrection nonetheless.