It’s been seven years since Pearl Jam’s rather insipid release, Lightning Bolt. In their attempt to have fun, their 2013 offering was rather disjointed and weak both musically and lyrically.
There’s been a lot for Pearl Jam to sink their teeth into since then and the themes of their new offering, Gigaton, seem rather apt for the times we’re living in, even more so at the state of the world at the album’s release. It makes the third track’s title ‘Dance of The Clairvoyants’ almost prophetic.
Gigaton opens with two lively punk-influenced numbers on ‘Who Ever Said’ and ‘Superblood Wolfmoon’. The ‘grunge’ sound is something that never properly defined Pearl Jam’s style, especially now during their later years, but the gravelly guitars and fast pace of the first two songs are as close as they get, guitar-twiddling solos aside.
There’s a change in sound for ‘Dance of The Clairvoyants’ with, unusually for Pearl Jam, a sequencer-sounding drum track which culminates into a swirling, echoing march that’ll bring itself up as an ear worm for a long time to come.
Never shy of saying how he feels about about US presidents, (think ‘Bushleaguer’), Vedder isn’t usually subtle but you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s reminiscing about listening to Queen while travelling on ‘Quick Escape’ until we hear ‘the lengths we had to go to then to find a place Trump hadn’t fucked up yet’.
Once the Casio-keyboard sounding intro has passed on ‘Who Ever Said’, we’re embraced with a sound that has been missing since 2000’s Binaural. ‘It’s alright, to be alone’, Vedder sings. Somehow, this couldn’t be more appropriate for where we are in the world today.
There’s certainly more than a tip of the hat to Springsteen on ‘Seven O’Clock’, both lyrically and melodically. Despite another unsubtle dig at Trump, ‘Then there’s Sitting Bullshit as our sitting president’, the song is more about rolling up our sleeves and getting on with making the world a better place, rather than making it all about the USA’s current commander-in-chief. ‘Much to be done’ sings Vedder at the end, just after the melody parodies John Denver’s ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’. Indeed, there is.
‘Never Destination’, has a similar sound to 1994’s Vitalogy. ‘Satan’s Bed’ springs to mind at the start of this track. In 1994, however, Pearl Jam were attempting to take a step back from fame and record-store popularity. This is far from the case now. Their fame has been embraced for nigh on three decades since and Gigaton has to be one of their most-promoted albums to date, from official visuals for each track to a Space Invaders online game. There’s plenty a message on this album and they want it heard, even if it takes the album’s complete hour-length to do so.
Driving the album along and the heartbeat of the entire production is Matt Cameron’s drumming. We’re taken through his whole repertoire of styles on Gigaton and he’s certainly revelling in the direction and sound of this album. ‘Take The Long Way’ couldn’t be much more like Soundgarden. There’s no doubting the fact that Chris Cornell’s death would have impacted many of the band members, probably no more so than for Soundgarden’s former drummer.
‘Comes Then Goes’ could also be from the Cornell solo songbook with its bluesy, open-tuned solo guitar and Vedder’s tender vocals. ‘Can I find a glimpse of my friend, don’t know where or when one of us left the other behind’, may well be directed at Chris Cornell.
‘Retrograde’ is Vedder’s Into The Wild soundtrack turned up to eleven. The musical interlude four minutes in is spellbinding, and Matt Cameron goes to town once more, his tribal sounding drum beats combining to full effect with Vedder’s lung-busting howls.
Concluding with ‘River Cross’, we’re left with a poetic, poignant, and deeply emotional finale. ‘I wish this moment was never ending, let it be a lie that all futures die’, gives a melancholic hope that the future will be alright. It’s a message that hits home even more so at the time of the album’s release.
Pearl Jam haven’t reinvented themselves on Gigaton, but they’ve grabbed hold of everything they do well and put it together to form an energetic, emotional and often spellbinding journey through the times we’re living in today. Vedder is back to his poetic best with the lyrics and Cameron’s drumming is the heartbeat, rising and falling through a vision of both desolation and hope. A triumphant return from the godfathers of grunge.