Pearl Jam ‘Gigaton’ album review
By James Wetmore, Contributor
Oh jeez, another “dad rock” band. Commence the eyerolls. Yes, the ancient band that is Pearl Jam has garnered enough strength to struggle out of their wheelchairs and make their 11th studio album, Gigaton—released seven years after their previous record, Lightning Bolt (2013). Pearl Jam has become much more experimental since their 1990s grunge heydays, and this record is no exception. This is arguably their most experimental record—meshing new wave and electronic influences with their 1970s blues rock and punk roots.
Despite that, some of the songs on the record fall into the trap that most bands from the pre-1990s rock scene are sucked into—sounding out-of-touch with what is popular today. Songs like “Who Ever Said” and “Never Destination” fall into this category, sounding like they would fit in with the music on Pearl Jam’s 1998 release Yield. There are multiple examples of the band having fun with experimental rock on this record, so there is not much of an excuse to have a bland song.
With that said, songs like “River Cross” and “Alright” are spacey, atmospheric tracks. They showcase Pearl Jam’s ability to keep it simple and not overload the listener with a dense wall of sound—instead they prioritize a small array of sounds to enrapture the listener. “Dance of the Clairvoyants” may be the band’s most experimental on the record; it’s an upbeat, new wave, ‘80s synthpop effort that works surprisingly well. Who knew that these old farts still had the ability to make a club song? Pearl Jam again switch things up for the 10th song on the record “Comes Then Goes,” an acoustic ballad featuring just vocalist Eddie Vedder and his guitar that lasts over six minutes.
There are songs that are more memorable than others—and there are certainly some that cater to their older fanbase—but one thing that stays consistent is the great production throughout the record. Whether it be an 1850s pump organ like on “River Cross,” or the programmed drums on “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” it all sounds amazing and the songs sound full. No matter if a song has five or thirty instruments, everything has its spot and there is no wasted space. Matt Cameron’s drums sound amazing and explosive, Stone Gossard and Mike McCready’s guitars are warm and smooth, Jeff Ament’s bass is huge and rounds out the songs, and Eddie Vedder’s vocal performances make this record truly exciting and rich with few dull moments.
All in all, this record is going to satisfy both long-term fans and newer ones with its classic grunge sound meshed with the band’s newfound sonic experimentality. It for sure contains enough hits for both sides to enjoy. It won’t break commercial records for the band or make them break into the mainstream, but it continues the experimentalism that is characteristic for Pearl Jam post-1990s while containing the rough and raw rock sound the band helped cultivate in Seattle 30 years ago. Overall a solid performance from the biggest remaining grudge band, and arguably their best effort since Yield. They prove that no matter how old you are, you’re never too old to kick ass and rock out.