“I need something different,” insists Stone Gossard on Moonlander’s gritty opening cut. It’s not an unreasonable sentiment from the guitarist who has spent over two decades playing with Seattle stalwarts Pearl Jam and Brad. For Gossard, change comes as a collection of songs (with corresponding original artwork) that he’s been tinkering with since 2003. Fully realized, the expansive Moonlander—Gossard’s second solo album—launches, orbits, and returns home with only the occasional track lost in space.
Moonlander doesn’t pussyfoot around. Gossard tackles universal ideas with ambitious arrangements, an endearing sense of wonder, and the brio of a more seasoned solo artist. “Still, space calls my name,” he sings on the standout title track, which uses the metaphor of a moon mission—replete with sonic elements, “space keys,” and soulful female backing vocals—to reflect on overcoming the tall odds of finding love. The marching “Battle Cry” addresses love’s inevitable conflicts in equally epic terms, Gossard proclaiming, “You need a battle cry to be in love” over vocal swells and clashing percussion.
“Big ideas come with a curse,” he admits, and what plagues Moonlander are a small handful of tracks that either collapse under the weight of their big ideas or come undone by needless bloating. The country-tinged piano and playful clarinet on the bouncing “Both Live” sound refreshing at first but quickly tire and feel slight on a track about conflict resolution and enlightenment. The darker “I Don’t Want To Go to Bed” broods infectiously like one of Pearl Jam’s trippier percussive pieces but becomes diluted by exhaustive recycling; it’s one of the few places where Gossard’s ear for editing failed him.
Gossard may overindulge at times, but you can hardly blame a guy who has only stepped into the spotlight twice in 20-plus years for “going big” when he gets the chance. More importantly, the unapologetic Moonlander captures Gossard’s unique voice and thoughtful vision. It’s a record that aims for the stars but lands on the moon, and that’s still quite a trip.
Essential Tracks: “Moonlander”, “Battle Cry”, and “Bombs Away”