Album Review | Pearl Jam's Gigaton
Words by Nicholas Stock (Fat Guerilla Productions)
Pearl Jam is back at it with their 11th studio album Gigaton. In conjunction with the release they announced a US and European tour that has subsequently been postponed after the full extent of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear. It seemed that Pearl Jam was ready to reignite their still burning fire in 2020 but alas fans will have to be content with the studio output for now. Gigaton is their first LP since 2013’s Lightning Bolt which was praised critically as Pearl Jam’s triumphant return to the sound that made them a household name in the first place. Gigaton continues with the heavier, in-your-face tone that fans have come to know and love since the early days. The foreboding Paul Nicklen photograph of the melting polar ice caps which graces the cover and acts as the first indication that these songs are about more than shaking of the shackles of fame. In fact the term gigaton is a unit of measurement equal to a billion tons and it is how scientists are measuring the amount of water being expelled from the poles currently.
The ethereal tone introducing “Who Ever Said” gives a false sense of wonder before the listener is slapped in the face with Vedder’s vocals backed by his stalwart brothers in Pearl Jam. Rolling Stones writer Kory Grow called it “Grown up grunge” and I think that fits. We’re onto the next phase and Pearl Jam is celebrating all that that made them who they are musically. “Super Blood Wolf Moon” one of the early singles off the album features some incredibly satisfying riff-heavy jams and a pop sensibility that seems to be ever-present in Pearl Jam’s songs. “Dance of the Clairvoyants” another single, again reminds us that bigger things are at play currently here on Planet Earth. “Quick Escape” is some sort of globetrotting post-apocalyptic shred-fest that attacks the senses.
“Alright” is the break this album needs after the onslaught of the first few songs, but this isn’t a throwaway track. It’s perhaps the most poignant and shows a wisdom and self-reflection that was not as obvious in previous releases. “Seven O’Clock” is a wordy mouthful for Vedder and is one of the flattest on the album. “Never Destination” steers the ship back on course with it’s straight forward-rock tone and amazing execution from guitarist Mike McCready. Drummer Matt Cameron penned “The Long Way” and this song is heavy on the rhythm. Gigaton shifted gears with the Stone Gossard penned “Buckle Up” which takes on a bouncy almost playful quality.
“Comes Then Goes” is perhaps my favorite song on the entire album. It shakes away the need to be heavy for the sake of authenticity and the lyrics reek of maturity. Sonically the transition to “Retrograde” is masterful. This song takes a god’s eye view on the planet and delivers us a stark warning. Even the term retrograde means “moving backward.” The album closes with the haunting “River Cross” featuring a Victorian pump organ recorded during a session in 2015.
The rock-centered side A juxtaposed against the slower more lyric-driven Side B gave many critics their only complaint. Gigaton is a bit uneven, but overall it’s an amazing snapshot of a band embracing who they are and writing songs that carry meaning to their aging fanbase. Bands either flare up and burn out or they find true satisfaction in the sounds that made them popular. After a relatively long hiatus from the studio Pearl Jam has made a triumphant return and a stellar record. They continue to be the torchbearers of true rock and in these crazy times they are a voice of reason. You can stream Gigaton wherever you listen to music and I highly recommend giving it a listen. It may be some time before they can get back to do doing what they do best, playing live.