At a time when a disease is the only thing going on a world tour this year, we can take comfort in the safety of our homes knowing that one enterprise is continuing as usual for now: The release of new albums. Despite having their summer road dates postponed like everyone else, Pearl Jam put out Gigaton, the long-awaited follow-up to 2013’s Lightning Bolt this past Friday. While Lightning Bolt set a critical precedent of Pearl Jam returning to form, Gigaton sees the legendary Seattle alt-rockers continue on that track while still managing to experiment and evolve with time; the single “Dance Of The Clairvoyants” being one such strong yet strange and entrancing example.
There’s plenty of clear and relevant themes on Gigaton, including climate change, as the video to “Clairvoyants” implies and “Quick Escape” lays out flat. Others are direct but harder to catch, on “Quick Escape” again for example: “Crossed the border to Morocco/Kashmir then Marrakesh/The lengths we had to go to then/to find a place Trump hadn’t fucked up yet.” Sonically, some tracks (“Who Ever Said”, “Superblood Wolfmoon”) maintain the core of classic Pearl Jam while others (“Alright”, “River Cross”) push the envelope into new territory. “Alright” in particular sounds like a No Code remaking of “Black”; tracks like “Never Destination” see the band’s influences shine through clearly- Eddie Vedder is a longtime fan of The Who as anyone knows and his channeling of Daltrey on “Never” is unmistakable.
Gigaton also showcases the continual balancing act Pearl Jam has tinkered on to a near-flawless state over the years, weighing off rockers like “Who Ever Said” against acoustic jams and mellow gambles like “Buckle Up” and “Retrograde” to make for an engaging dynamic dance that continues to evolve with every album. The succession of tracks towards the end (“Buckle Up” through “River Cross”) do create something of a lull from being consistently restrained without any kind of high-energy reprieve a la “Take The Long Way” and leave the album to close out quietly. On the flip side, the final quarter of Gigaton is a fine testing ground for Pearl Jam after reiterating themselves for much of the first three. It demonstrates an even more crucial balance than simply hard vs. soft songs: Moving into the future while remaining timeless, something Pearl Jam thus far has masterfully been able to do.
Gigaton all in all is a show of strength, growth and continual maturation for Pearl Jam. Out of any band to come out of the grunge era, Pearl Jam is, besides the only one of major note to survive to this day in its original form the one out of any of the original grunge bands to do the evolution as it were with its sound and demonstrate the possibility to explore and achieve beyond a flannel-clad fad that quickly burnt out. Their dynamic dance is not yet perfected but certainly close; whenever the next album appears (or when we all get to go outside) we may see such flawlessness come to fruition. Until then, Gigaton definitely makes the grade for listening pleasure.