After a seven-year gap between records grunge’s greatest survivors, Pearl Jam, are back with their 11th studio album. Not that it feels like they have been away that long given the ever-relentless touring schedule the band seem to maintain.
So what has changed in the meantime? Overall not a whole lot, it would be fair to say. Their latest effort provides a lot of the group’s usual mixture of blues-infused hard rock, grunge, and rock balladry that will be immediately familiar to long-term fans. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this lazy album by band trading on former glories though. It is not. In fact, this is the most urgent and vital they have sounded in a while.
For evidence of this, you need to look no further than the three singles that preceded this record; Superblood Wolfmoon, Quick Escape, and Dance of The Clairvoyants. All of them are absolute stompers. The first is a snarling grunge beast of a track that sees the group at their most anthemic. It also has an excellent solo from Mike McCready, who provides some of his strongest guitar work throughout the course of the album. The second is a perfect slice of hard rock clearly created by masters of their craft. While the last is a surprising diversion into synth-rock that has a great vocal performance from Eddie Vedder, showing him both at his most mellifluous and most raw. Plus, it has an irresistible pop hook.
Dance of the Clairvoyants is not the only surprising diversion though, as despite covering familiar terrain, this might just be the most musically varied album the band has put out since Yield. From the atmospheric Seven O’Clock to the country-rock tinged Come Then Goes to the folksy River Cross, there is a variety of moods and tones going on here, which shows a band who are still willing to take risks even 30 years into their career. The aforementioned Seven O’Clock is also one of several efforts that sees the group at their most politically fired up, Vedder summing up our current political travails with the line, “This fucked-up situation calls for all hands on deck.”
Somewhat inevitably over the LP’s (slightly overlong) 57-minute runtime, there are some misses along the way. For example, Alright is just that an alright filler track and nothing more. Also, Buckle Up is a somewhat plodding ballad. However, the hits far outweigh the misfires, and nothing on here is terrible as even the worst tracks are merely mediocre.
Gigaton is a record that will likely delight long-term aficionados and may even see them pick up a new fan or two. And even if it does not stand up to their 90s classics, it does come mouth-wateringly close at times.