Album Reviews

Pearl Jam – Gigaton

(Monkeywrench) UK release date: 27 March 2020


Pearl Jam - GigatonSo the first thing you’ll have noticed about Pearl Jam‘s new album, Gigaton, is just how much the first single (Dance Of The Clairvoyants) sounds like Talking Heads. But of course there’s much more to the song, and the album, than they’d have you believe. 

Isn’t that always the case with Pearl Jam? They’ve been defying expectations for 30 years now – often releasing low-key classics along the way. Across their wide and varied catalogue, you’ll find bruising, prime-grade grunge (Ten), experimental odd-ball alternative (Vitalogy, Binaural), solid-as-a-brick-wall Rock (the self-titled record, Yield) and more besides. They’ve released crowd-pleasers (Vs.), crowd-puzzlers (Lightning Bolt) and at least one underappreciated classic (Riot Act). 

This record, thankfully, falls into the ‘crowd-pleaser’ category – which is a relief, considering that their last record, Lightning Bolt, disappeared quicker than a…

Who Ever Said, which opens Gigaton, wastes no time getting to the rock goodness. There’s well-earned swagger, there are springy riffs, and Eddie Vedder’s one-in-a-million werewolf yowl is front and centre throughout it all. Nothing could be said here about his voice that somebody hasn’t said before, but my God what an instrument. 

Superblood Wolfmoon is next, and it takes the volume and the intensity up a few notches (up to 11?). Matt Cameron’s thunderous drumming, combined with the ripping guitars, allows the track to hit harder and truer than anything Pearl Jam have managed in years. 

The gods of clever sequencing ensures that any fan of any era of Pearl Jam have got what they wanted by the end of the third track, Dance Of The Clairvoyants. As mentioned earlier, it’s a rollicking post-punk cut with more than a passing resemblance to Talking Heads. But there’s much more here too – twinkling Duran Duran keyboards, a lolloping bass line borrowed from Breeders‘ Cannonball, and a collaborative sense of instrument interplay that undoubtedly comes down to the fact that it’s one of only two songs on the album written by more than one member of the band. It’ll be a gig highlight for years to come – if we ever get back to having gigs – and it might just be the best Pearl Jam single since Life Wasted (released in 2006!).

Quick Escape, written by bassist – and original primary songwriter Jeff Ament – is a throwback to the grunge glory days, when Soundgarden and Screaming Trees fused acid-rock riffs onto harder, sharper rhythms. Quick Escape is a war cry against how Donald Trump has “fucked up” the world, and they do it in the language of Led Zeppelin – monolithic drums, snaking bass and skyscraper riffage. 

Across the rest of the record, there are plenty of highlights: Ament’s Alright is delicate and beautiful, Matt Cameron’s Take The Long Way is fiery and ferocious, and guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard each offer up a prime slice with the former contributing the chiming Americana of Retrograde and latter the stoned (no pun intended) saunter of Buckle Up. 

Put simply, the world needs more albums like this right now. There are no artistic statements, no noble failures, no left-field collaborations – just straightforward, genuine rock from a straightforward, genuine rock band.

If Bob Dylan, or Neil Young, or Bruce Springsteen, or the Rolling Stones, or R.E.M. (reunion pending) or any feel-good crowd-pleasing rock artists want to release a record to help us through these trying times, let them. But, for now, we have Pearl Jam supplying us with an hour-or-so of muscular riffs, thickly layered instrumentation and massive beats – and all with a smile. They even throw in the ballads for free. This is just simple, honest-to-goodness, feel-good rock ‘n’ roll, and the world is better for it being out there. More like this, please.


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