Graded on a Curve:
Pearl Jam, “Dance of
the Clairvoyants”

Now that Eddie Vedder has decided he wants to be David Byrne and Pearl Jam the Talking Heads, the only question remaining is: When are they gonna break out the big white suit?

Literally every human being I’ve spoken with likes Pearl Jam’s new (wave) single “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” and not a single one of them gives a good once in a lifetime that if you sent a sample of its DNA to Ancestry.com it would come back 100 percent Talking Heads and 0 percent flannel shirt.

It’s not as if people are denying the Head’s influence; a Rolling Stone magazine scribe recently conceded the song’s “obvious debt to the Talking Heads,” but only after calling it Pearl Jam’s “funkiest song in forever.” To which I can only respond there’s a considerable difference between an obvious debt to and wholesale appropriation of, just as there’s a considerable difference between admiring a man’s hat and stealing it.

The analogy that comes to mind is Greta Van Fleet. Fans point to them as the saviors of Classic Rock, when all they’re really doing is cannibalizing your Led Zeppelin favorites and reassembling them, Frankenstein style, into what we’re asked to believe are original songs. They’re a very good Led Zeppelin tribute band hiding behind a woman–or to put it more accurately, a woman’s name.

“Dance of the Clairvoyants” brings to mind the Documentary Now!’s Test Pattern. Both owe their existence to the Talking Heads, but whereas Test Pattern makes me laugh, “Dance of the Clairvoyants” makes me want to sue for plagiarism.

The bottom line is everybody steals from everybody in the music business, but some do it better than others. Pearl Jam sucks at it, as they prove on their 2019 single “I Believe in Miracles,” which is basically the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” on methadone. The only truly miraculous thing about “I Believe in Miracles” is the failure of Lou Reed’s estate to contact an attorney.

“The Dance of the Clairvoyants” is like recycled paper, or one of the 2,000,000 Chuck Berry rips out there. I’ve got nothing against the practice, but you don’t have to be a clairvoyant to pull it off.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C-

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  • Luckydestiny

    What talking heads song does it rip off? Totally agree that the vocal style is similar to Byrne, in the first half , more Bowie in the second.

    There are lots of influences too, but I truly trust in the organic bottom up constuction of the song that Stone described.

    The song started with Matts drum machine beat, he is a Tame Impala fan and I think he took inspiration. Stone heard Matts beat and put down the bass line, which is identical to a Breeders bass line, I think song is cannon ball. Jeff was next to get involved and he was the one came up with the synth part, which is obviously influnced by more mainstream eighties pop than new wave. At this point the song is in no way 100% Talking heads and therefore the complete song isnt a blatant talking heads rip off.

    Mikes stabbing guitars are his own handy work, no doubt influenced by guitars he’s heard, but not talking heads.

    That leaves us with the vocals which certainly are inspired by Byrne, Eds a big fan, and byrne will appreciate it too, because almost every one who liked DOTC but never listened to Talking Heads almost certainly would have listened to them for first time of the back of this track.

    Wont argue with your rating for the track though, nothing wrong with not liking a song 🙂

    • Michael Little

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful and knowledgeable reply. I tend to lean towards hyperbole, as you no doubt noticed, to say nothing of black and white thinking, Careful analysis has never been my forte, perhaps because musically speaking I have no idea what I’m talking about. Thanks to for not hurling abuse. It’s always a pleasure to hear from someone who’s kind enough to correct me without calling me names. It doesn’t bother me much–but it generally causes me to dig in my heels. I heard Talking Heads and ran with it–you’re completely right to point out that it’s primarily Eddie’s David Byrne imitation is the most TH thing about it.

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