Put your seatbelt on and buckle up for the ride. This uplifting album pairs well with wine, moonlight, campfire, fresh air, and distancing.
Pearl Jam checks every box on Gigaton that has made them so great throughout their 30-year career while sounding like a completely new band. Their 11th record has a vibe of its own, which is exciting if you’re a diehard fan or a newcomer. It may be their most spiritual album to date. There are moments when it seems to lack direction, but strangely, that works in its favor. It’s honest and human. It contains more emotion than technique, and in my opinion, that’s when these Seattle rockers succeed the most.
The frantic, hard-edged urgency of “Who Ever Said” kicks off the album brilliantly. Its unpredictability sets the framework for the ambitious twelve-song journey (and longest album to date). This is one you’ll instantly want to sing along to, even if you’re not sure what Eddie Vedder is saying. Mike McCready’s guitar furiously wails all over the song, as it does on the track “Never Destination.” Oddly enough, the one tune McCready wrote (and produced) himself, “Retrograde,” is quite the opposite. With this peaceful number, we are treated to an atmospheric, soulful sound that would be at home on Vedder’s Into the Wild soundtrack.
At first, “Dance of the Clairvoyants” feels out of place on the record (and within their catalog), but maybe that’s the point. Perhaps out of place is its place, like many of us in the world today. Kudos to them for not being afraid to take a few steps out of their comfort zone. This song also features an interesting round of musical chairs which sees Mike McCready handling percussion duties, Stone Gossard on the bass (its driving force), and Jeff Ament adding a layer of personality with spacey keyboards and laid-back guitar strumming. The leads are still tackled by McCready, and the Jimi Hendrix influence is undeniable. No complaints here.
The sounds and emotions throughout the rest of the inspired collection range from fun and punky, to subdued and reflective. The Matt Cameron penned, “Take the Long Way” is sure to please grunge fans due to its fast-paced Soundgarden vibe. It sounds like an unreleased track from their album, Down on the Upside. “Quick Escape” is a heavier, standout track which features a groovy bassline by Jeff Ament, and more impressive fretwork from McCready, who sounds like he’s channeling the painful cries of Mother Earth.
There’s no lack of quality in the words department either. Lyrics like the following, from “Seven O’ Clock” and “Alright” respectively, are so appropriate considering our current climate, that you’d think Vedder is a time-traveling wizard:
“For this is no time for depression or self-indulgent hesitance / This f**ked up situation calls for all hands, hands on deck.”
“It’s alright to shut it down / disappear in thin air, it’s your home / it’s alright to be alone.”
Meaningful lyrics will never go out of style. The thoughtful poetry sprinkled throughout Gigaton will require much more attention and interpretation from this rock n’ roll listener. All the great ones do.
Speaking of great ones, “Comes Then Goes” is a lovely acoustic number which is most likely about the late, great Chris Cornell. This would be appropriate given how close he was with Eddie. It’s a fitting tribute that seems to draw from his spirit (and others that we’ve lost), serving as a reminder to never let go of their memory. It starts a wonderful wind-down to a rollercoaster of an album.
Concluding this spiritual awakening is “River Cross,” a song that would work well during the end credits to a film with a happy ending. It leaves you with an intense feeling of hope, thanks to the beautiful pump-organ work by Vedder, and introspective lyrics that come from a place of frustration as well as perseverance. “Let it be a lie that all futures die” is a statement we can all get behind.