Rage-filled, guitar-heavy and urgent-sounding are just a couple of ways to describe Pearl Jam’s new album Gigaton. Known for their consistent sound, the band surged the rebirth of the guitar scene with dominant riffs and a temper-packed tone. The truth is, this is a very Pearl Jam album through and through, the one that never fails to grab the attention. 29 years after their debut with Ten the band stays true to their roots while growing their sound with each song.
The acclaimed instrumental intensity of “Whoever Said” has become the band’s signature. The song that could fit perfectly in their 2006 self-titled album is fast-paced and, at times, repetitive. Yet, it does not sound drained of excitement, rather exhibiting the persistent nature of Pearl Jam. As Vedder’s well-known baritone voice sings “whoever said it’s all been said gave up on satisfaction” the momentum hit’s the peak just to digress in the company of the instruments. The rapid tempo is carried on to “Superblood Wolfmoon” occasionally losing out on the details while simultaneously offering full compensation with the epic guitar solo.
The unexpected hint of synth-pop in lead single “Dance Of The Clairvoyants” carries a stylistic similarity to The Killers, while the rhythm gets masked by the punk attitude and a somewhat calmer sound. The track of profound philosophy preaches “expecting perfection leaves a lot to ignore”, together with chant-like overdubs. As if foreshadowing the current state of things Pearl Jam coats the listener in comfort during “Alright”. A strangely simple instrumental arrangement emphasizes the sensual string with the less political context being brought to attention. As if coming from under the water “It’s alright, to be alone. To listen for a heartbeat, it’s your own” follows a drowned-like beat housing a rather reassuring feel.
Half-way through the album, the sound deviates from the traditional rhythm of the band with “Seven O’Clock,” the song that just doesn’t fit the pattern. With a Springsteenesque sound, it’s an acoustic story where the politics come to life “down under an oasis where there are dreams still being born”. The auditory indignation transitions between the verses and chorus while the listener can’t help but absorb every word within. The abundance of the guitar becomes prominent during “Take The Long Way” as Mike McCready does what he does best and emits a Soundgarden-like sound in one of the most punk songs on the album. The anger is not something that transmits through the whole release, as a more cheerful tone of “Buckle Up” bears a dreamier feel. With the lyrics: “the drapes pull back, reveal her wound, her boy on her lap, a murderer groomed” hiding among the instruments, the song starts to vibrate under the enigmatic light. Almost as if it’s a trap, you keep waiting for the tense moment where the instruments explode, but it just doesn’t come. This song is a rare occasion where full sound absorption can take place.
Pearl Jam is leaning in heavier into the acoustic side with Gigaton. “Retrograde” works with that raw sound and layered instruments in the space where rock meets the new cosmic harmony while Vedder’s vocals carry a prayer-like feel. With all the instruments starting to fade, all that’s left are the percussions encouraging the audience to “feel the retrograde spin us ‘round”. What may seem like a staged ending, it is actually only the lead-up. Not being one for straightforwardness the band often leaves plenty of room for interpretation, which is exactly what they’ve done in “River Cross” – the final act of Gigaton. As instruments get the majority of the attention the cryptic message: “I always thought I’d cross that river, The other side, distant now” echoes in the slow tempo of the song. This track is so vast and potent, that it manages to touch on the personal side of a shitty situation, call out the government on their flaws and even give unity a shot with the calm tone of the song.
Pearl Jam seems to always pull together sonically, which doesn’t come as a surprise considering the band is approaching their 30th anniversary. And while some songs lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, others doubled, if not tripled the delivery. Working with relatively new sounds, the band, being the masters that they are, executed it flawlessly on the sonic side. Gigaton is not after popularity or radio plays, Gigaton is here for that listener that grew and evolved together with Pearl Jam.