Album Review: Pearl Jam - 'Gigaton'

Seven years since their last release, grunge legends Pearl Jam grace the music scene to release Gigatron; a record to defy expectations, with the band’s essential charm familiar to any existing fans. Preceded by three singles, it’s clear the band are looking to exemplify a different route of exploration, contrastive to their usual roots. With this, any Pearl Jam fan may find themselves curious to hear more of what the band are looking to offer with Gigaton.

Opening the record is Who Ever Said, a suggestive opening thirty seconds with something much more rhythmic and usual of Pearl Jam to follow: confident and common rocky riffs by the band’s guitarists, and Vedder’s staple vocals. This track is what you may expect of a 2020 Pearl Jam record, with retro staples whilst not being so grungy and raw as their Ten beginnings. The bridge feels the most similar to their beginnings, but the rest of the track leaves enough room for the band to move away from this. A promising opening for the rest of the record.

It’s hard not to be distracted by the paranormal title of Superblood Wolfmoon, however the track is catchy with a solid rhythm section regardless, demonstrating the band’s timeless grapple with the genre. As one may begin to think there is nothing too notable about the track, the bridge introduces the highlight thus far - an absolute killer of a guitar riff, building up to an eventual crescendo to the final chorus.

"The band maintain their essence at the core of their sound, bringing the grunge charm of the group into a new decade."

Lead single Dance of the Clairvoyants follows, opening with something more synth-y than the previous tracks and something unusual for the band - a comparatively psychedelic feeling to the rest of the band’s discography, reminiscent of something from a Muse collection. The album’s final single follows with a much more raw and toothy start - the rhythms are rough and its vocals are soulful, reminiscent of a younger Pearl Jam. There’s always something in a rawer cut of a record that makes it feel youthful and impatient but in the most charming way, as if eager to be heard. Although it’s clear in the handle of greater production value with pre-recorded sound clips and synths, it seems the band maintain their essence at the core of their sound, bringing the grunge charm of the group into a new decade.

Alright is a red herring compared to the rest of the record so far. Synth sounds with a balance of Vedder’s melodic vocals as well as some percussion accompaniment combine to create this psychedelic momentum. There’s something very airy about it, with Vedder mentioning a ‘trip’ in its lyrics. This leads on spectacularly with the opening of following track Seven O’Clock. Vedder’s vocals accompany these psychedelic sounds with something containing a more country-esque charm, making the track something less trippy but respectable in its balance. Despite this, it still holds moments of epic synths to entertain the record’s vibrant elements.

"Fearless in its exploration and demonstrates true musicianship; Pearl Jam establish themselves as timeless on this record."

Never Destination brings the pace back to the album immediately after. There is much more urgency and determination in its sound, but it’s a somewhat welcome break to the tone introduced in the past few tracks. Again, it holds a classic and expecting composition - for anyone listening to the record with a previous interest in Pearl Jam or the genre itself, this is the track likely to give you what you are looking for with little surprises. For Take The Long Way, there is something in there that gives a glimpse of your usual metal bands. Perhaps it’s the gravelly guitar section and riffs, but it returns the record to what feels like its aim; exploring where the band’s essence can be pushed with respect to the best variants in the genre.

Buckle Up is another red herring. It maintains a similar tempo and beat to other tracks, but it is yet calmer in its composition. Vedder’s vocals are now calming and sound like something of a lullaby, telling a story of sorts. There’s something in the guitar section’s repetition and occasional piano riffs that may remind someone of a nursery mobile. It is a very strong highlight of the album purely for its break entirely from what the record deals with otherwise.

Image courtesy of Danny Clinch

Comes Then Goes is something similar in that it reflects a more country feel in its composition, but Vedder’s vocals stamp Pearl Jam across it. There is also something retro in it, reminiscent of Oceans perhaps from their first album, but yet still feels fit to soundtrack a modern-day Western. This theme nicely follows in Retrograde. It begins to seem that the last half of the album is to exemplify the band’s hold on the slower side of rock. The track has something eery to it, perhaps to reflect the title, but it’s defined by the contribution from stunning acoustic guitar riffs. The surrounding composition creates a lot of space in the sound; echoes of Vedder’s vocals at the end sound as though he is singing into the night.

The record then finishes with River Cross. There’s something hymn-like in its foundation, with the rhythmic accompaniment creating something ritualistic. The lyrics are haunting, asking for just one more moment and less contention, wanting to enjoy the peace of the moment the band are creating. It’s resonant and spacious, much like the rest of the record. The album is fearless in its exploration and demonstrates true musicianship; Pearl Jam establish themselves as timeless on this record.