Pearl Jam's Gigaton is a bracing shot of rock: Review
On "Superblood Wolfmoon," the second track on Pearl Jam's Gigaton, Eddie Vedder observes, "Love notwithstanding, we are each of us f---ed." Succinct.
But as dire as that sounds, what precedes and follows is not a collection of doomsaying brooders (although there is a little of that; it's still Pearl Jam after all). It's a bracing shot of rock for a world currently enamored of big, blocky beats, bedroom pop, and ASMR&B. Those all possess aural delights of their own kind, but it's nice to hear a pushy, squalling guitar solo, some hard-hitting yet nimble drumming, and Vedder's just-beyond-linear-thought lyrics again in a classic context.
It's been seven years since these famous sons of Seattle — and, tragically, the last of the big four from the '90s alt-rock revolution featuring its original lead singer — released an album. Nearly 30 years (and five drummers) removed from their blockbuster 1991 debut, Ten, the beloved quintet are reemerging in a new world. They are clearly undaunted. Musically, at least, as the album is suffused with patches of fear, dread, and anger, which feel fittingly, depressingly, and cathartically of the moment — even if many of the songs themselves are not explicit in a lyrical sense.
Produced by longtime technician Josh Evans and the band members — Vedder, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, bassist Jeff Ament, and drummer Matt Cameron — Gigaton opens with a staggering hat trick that may be among the band's best one-two-three punches ever and easily helps the album earn its explosive name. (For a band that famously can be turgid, this a workout-worthy trio of kinetic and invigorating tunes.) The music seeps in stealthily on opener "Who Ever Said" before a big jolt of riffage and a gathering storm of guitars come charging out as Vedder brays "Home is where the broken heart is/Home is where every scar is." It's a world in a song as it moves from vibe to vibe, all neatly cohering against the odds, given the varying elements.
The urgency continues right into the punky bounce of "Wolfmoon" and its shredding solo before pivoting to the new-wave bubbly bass pop of "Dance of the Clairvoyants" — the jagged, staccato vocal bursts of which make it seem like Vedder has particularly been enjoying some early-'80s Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel.
The balance of the 12 tracks provides other pleasures but never quite reaches the vibrancy of this opening salvo, instead rising and falling like the EKG lines threaded throughout the album art. "Quick Escape" and "Seven O'Clock" both have the rare Vedder falsetto flights inside harder rockers. "Quick Escape" and the snakily percussive "Take the Long Way" boast a lighter, airier backing vocal sound that feels fresh for the band, with the latter containing another warped and scorching solo.
Vedder is on his game here. Vocally he sounds as if he has not aged a day. Conversely, his lyrical growth is formidable: The album features some instantly memorable couplets, from despairing to comic, offering up vulnerability, self-doubt, and furious indignation.
For those expecting, or even hoping for, a straightforward, incendiary cri de coeur regarding the current political climate, Gigaton will be a mixed bag depending on how you interpret the lyrics. Certainly there are allusions both obvious and opaque — lyrics referencing "collusion in plain sight" or "While the government thrives on discontent...proselytizing and profitizing" — but the concerns here are both global and internal.
One suspects that taking the time Pearl Jam did was crucial for the energy and depth of their album, which is neither a "return to form" nor some far-out noise experiment from bored musicians seeking new thrills or levels of credibility. It's a sturdy rock album from five guys who know what they're doing, took time till they had something to say, are interpolating new influences, and sound stoked to be back together in a room. Die-hard fans will be pleased, and more casual fans will be pleasantly surprised, when a handful of these tracks prove their mettle as additions to the band's live show, which will help subvert nostalgia for a heritage act. Will those fans play it as much as Vitalogy? Maybe not, but it's a strong showing for a band with so many miles behind it and a hopeful sign for the ones that lie ahead. If, as Vedder intones, we are in a collective state of f---ery —and it certainly feels that way — it's nice to have these guys back to help give the end-times a little oomph. B+
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