We are currently living in uncertain times with fear, anxiety, and stress riding high, especially as many are self-quarantining to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Sometimes what you need to get you through is a calming force, and for many, temporary relief came in the release of Pearl Jam ‘s new album, Gigaton, their first new record in just over six years.
Gigaton arrived at a moment when people needed a break, and many Pearl Jam fans were fortunate to be rewarded with one of the best albums in the band’s deep discography. The new record is one that was a genuine collaborative effort, and it amplifies the sounds of a band still loving what they do as they head into their fourth decade creating albums.
The new record is loaded from front to back, in what is truly a balanced record. There are moments of peace, calmness and relaxation, with an equal amount of rockers that you’ll be air-guitaring along to.
“Who Ever Said” kicks Gigaton off in the perfect way. The track soars with moments that signify why Pearl Jam still remain one of the most talented rock bands in the world. Eddie Vedder’s voice sounds as great as it did in 1990, Mike McCready and Stone Gossard both still shred on guitar and drummer Matt Cameron controls the pulse of this opening track. The song sets the tone for what’s to come on the rest of the record.
The next track, and second single, is “Superblood Wolfmoon.” This was a song that got many fans excited about the album because it’s a quintessential Pearl Jam song. Vedder is showing why he’s one of the best lead singers in rock history, complimented with epic guitar solos for a song that easily gets stuck in your head in the best way possible.
“Dance of the Clairvoyants,” is a song I’ve been obsessed with since the band released it as the first single off the new album. The song is outside the box for Pearl Jam and has a Talking Heads vibe to it. Yet this is another example of the band firing on all cylinders. Gossard is actually the man behind the catchy bassline and not bass player Jeff Ament. Ament sets the atmosphere on keyboards, Vedder’s vocals call out to you and McCready adds just the right amount of guitar riffs.
The band continues to experiment with their sound on “Quick Escape.” Ament is stellar on bass, and the entire song has some subtle hints of sounds you’re used to hearing from Rage Against the Machine. Each instrument and band member has their time to shine on this one, really signifying what makes this album a special one.
After really hitting the ground running on the first four songs, Pearl Jam lets you take a breath with “Alright.” The song has an opening that makes you feel like you’re listening to Pink Floyd’s “Time” and keeps that steady vibe going throughout. While the song maintains a calm beat throughout, there are some lyrics that are eerily reminiscent of what’s going on in our country. Vedder sings, “It’s alright to shut it down/Disappear in thin air, it’s your home/It’s alright to be alone/To listen for a heartbeat, it’s your own.”
It’s hard to pick a favorite song off Gigaton, but I do know I’ve repeatedly been coming back to the one-two punch of “Seven O’Clock” and “Never Destination.” After slowing things down on “Alright,” the band really kick things up a notch on these next two. Vedder really shines on “Seven O’Clock,” especially how he delivers each line, and the band helps him drive each lyric home. The song builds and builds, and the listener is rewarded with a powerful closing, and of course, Vedder’s voice is there helping land the plane. “Never Destination” feels like a song that could’ve been on Vs. or Vitalogy. Pearl Jam puts their foot on the gas with this song, and the momentum of the track never surrenders.
The album starts to go down a much different path in the latter half of the record, as Pearl Jam starts to slow things down with more experimental and acoustic tracks. This begins with “Buckle Up,” a song filled with relaxing vibes as Vedder gently delivers each vocal. “Comes Then Goes” is a solid acoustic track, which once again shows the band’s ability to make great music, whether it’s fast or slow. “Comes Then Goes “goes right into “Retrograde,” the penultimate track, and another contender for best song on the album. This one has a great buildup, making you feel as if you’re looking up at the sky on a cloudless night and seeing nothing but stars.
Gigaton comes to a close with “River Cross,” a song dominated by a pipe organ that sends the listener off on a high note with Vedder repeating “Share the light/won’t hold us down,” which are words we all need to hear right now.
I remember really enjoying Lightning Bolt when it came out in 2013, but I didn’t feel the way I do right now after listening to Gigaton. I don’t know if it’s because the material is some of the band’s best in years or because I’m just happy to hear new music from a familiar group I grew up loving.
We’ve lost a lot of heroes from the rock/grunge world since Pearl Jam last released an album. Gone are Scott Weiland, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. It was heartbreaking losing people who made music that defined big chunks of your childhood. I’ve learned that I have to make sure to cherish the bands and artists still around and making music. I wish I can find more words to explain how it brings me so such joy that we still have Pearl Jam and that they’re still making incredible music 30 years later. Gigaton couldn’t have come at a better time when we could all use an escape and joy in our lives.