Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Album Review: Pearl Jam - Gigaton

Pearl Jam
*** out of *****

What is the desire for/expectation of a new Pearl Jam album in 2020 as they approach thirty years together?

Just the fact that the band is still active should be enough for most fans of arena rock, as it will mean another tour (whenever that is possible again) from a band who are fantastic live. That aside, do the band have anything else to say from studio work or have they just moved into later day Rolling Stones territory? It has been seven years since the middle of the road Lightning Bolt and Gigaton, while taking a different path from that release, basically ends up in the same place. 

The album opens with two straight ahead rockers firmly in the Seattle bands well worn wheelhouse. "Who Ever Said" and "Superblood Wolfmoon" are uptempo rock numbers that find the full band (Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder, and Matt Cameron) locked in and sounding great via production from Josh Evans.

Other familiar arena ready efforts are the punkish "Never Destination" and punchy "Take The Long Way" joining the club as tunes that are classic PJ. All of these inject enough musical distinctions, an electronic flourish here a squirrelly guitar there, to scratch the musical itch. However, it must also be stated that these tunes are conducted in areas Peal Jam have explored once (or twice, or three times) before.

The band seems to feel this way too as Gigaton shows more musical diversity than any other Pearl Jam album in decades. The albums first single is the most funky the band ever has been (but because this is PJ their light funk stems from the Talking Heads) as "Dance of the Clairvoyants" gets its groove going around Ament's bass, digital drums and keys. It is a move away from the bands safe space and much more interesting than the dull Ament penned ballad "Alright".

Vedder takes center stage on the long protest number "Seven O'Clock" which incorporates digital strings and a sense of dignified indignation in late career John Lennon fashion while his ballad "Comes Then Goes" is an acoustic journey on his soaring vocals. The band flirts with some bubbling Phish sounding jam-band styles on "Buckle Up" before Vedder brings out a pump organ for the album closer "River Cross" however it is the cinematic soaring of "Retrograde" with it's naturalistic lyrics which connects most readily to the climate change art work and overall theme of the record. 

The track that stood out the most to these ears was "Quick Escape" and it seems to sum up recent Pearl Jam best. It is a honest mix of styles that feels much longer than it's four and half minute run time, but displays flashes of brilliance along the way such as it's pummeling/rumbling low end, huge choruses and super sonic ending jam which should be drawn out even longer on the live stage. Yet for all of it's pluses the effort it never really clicks the way their all time great studio tracks do.

What is the desire/expectation of a new Pearl Jam album in 2020 as they approach thirty years together? Pretty much what the band delivers on Gigaton. 

A solid effort complete with experiments, a lot of rocking, and protesting while raging against the dying of the light. For comparison The Rolling Stones put out Voodoo Lounge thirty years in, and while not the best Stones record by a mile, it is a fairly good collection of tunes and their best late career releases. That pretty much fits for Pearl Jam and Gigaton as well, for now, time will tell how it compares to their future output.
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