Pearl Jam Liberate Themselves From the Past on 'Gigaton'

Photo: Danny Clinch / Courtesy of Republic Records

Gigaton sounds like Pearl Jam convincingly doing their very best to not sound like Pearl Jam. Liberated from their past and their expectations, the band have freed themselves to take some long overdue risks.

Pearl Jam


27 March 2020

In a 2011 Rolling Stone article, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder was asked for his take on the growing nostalgia for the 1990s. He replied, "I feel like we have to keep our eyes on the road. Being nostalgic is like taking an off-ramp and getting a sandwich – and then you get back on the highway. I don't want to be spending the rest of my life at the gas station."

Arguably, Pearl Jam's subsequent album, 2013's Lightning Bolt saw them idling at the gas station a little too long, probably with a map spread out across the hood, poking their fingers at possible routes. Safe and underwhelming, too often, the songs felt trapped in the band's self-made comfort zone. Subsequently, the impression grew that the band knew it too. After wrapping up initial touring for the record, Vedder embarked on numerous solo tours whilst each member took time out to flex their creative muscles in various side projects. When they did tour, the band's reliably triumphant shows focused on the past with little indication that they were anywhere close to hitting the highway again for another album.

It's not a total surprise then, that new album Gigaton comes a whole seven years after Lightning Bolt. What's more surprising is that it's the sound of a band completely liberated by any idea of what a Pearl Jam album should be. It's impassioned, inventive, and easily one of the most enjoyable records of the band's career.

"Who Ever Said" opens the album with uncharacteristic, swirling arpeggiated synths before the familiar growl of expectant guitars. On first listen, it's a fairly straightforward uptempo rocker, the kind that opens the majority of Pearl Jam albums. However, dig deeper, and it's something more. It's a statement. It's the group exploring the space between the distorted chords and spiky riffs, adding unexpectedly rich, musical layers. Sprightly '60s garage rocker "Super Blood Wolf Moon" continues in the same vein with the band emboldened by a transfusion of new musical blood. However, wade deeper and the song reveals its true form with Vedder's righteous rage shining through. "Love notwithstanding. We are each of us fucked."

Somewhat divisive on its initial release, "Dance of the Clairvoyants" sounds incredible in the context of the album. Inspired by their collective love of new wave, it rides a post-punk bass groove adorned with twinkling synths and jagged guitar squalls. "Quick Escape" is arguably the best song on the album. Musically, It's Jeff Ament's baby as he directs instruments to venture to places you'd least expect. While the bassline provides the backbone, Guitars rip and stutter, never settling in one place for too long with piano flourishes and vocal samples adding color to the margins.

The gorgeously atmospheric "Alright" draws you in under its dizzying spell of circling piano notes and the haunting sound of a plucked Kalimba. Thankfully, these inventive flourishes and experimentations never come at the expense of memorable melodies and hooks. Nowhere is this more apparent than on "Seven O'Clock", which opens with swirling backward loops before gracefully morphing into a catchy, mid-tempo rocker.

Similarly, the mood just as easily shifts from earnest to plain old fun as on the swinging, Stonsey rocker "Never Destination". Meanwhile, the Cameron penned, "Take The Long Way" is a more serious, brawny rock song with more than a hint of his (sadly) old band, Soundgarden. From there, slow-burner, "Buckle Up" marks the point where Peal Jam take their foot off the gas for the home stretch whilst keeping their eyes firmly on the road ahead.

Johnny Cash-Esque "Come Then Goes" is, musically, the most straightforward song on the album. Essentially just Vedder and an acoustic guitar, it's him at his most openly reflective on a paean to a fading friendship. New wave ballad "Retrograde" is the only song on the album that fails to ignite fully, yet still features some delicious Mike McCready licks.

Gigaton concludes with "River Cross" -- probably their most heartbreaking album closer since Vs' "Indifference". Backed by pump organ and scuttling percussion, it's the sound of Vedder contemplating life's later acts and preparing to hand over the keys to the next generation.

Gigaton sounds like Pearl Jam convincingly doing their very best to not sound like Pearl Jam. Liberated from their past and their expectations, the band have freed themselves to take some long overdue risks. At this point, they are a very long way from the gas station indeed.







'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.


Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.


Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.


The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.


Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.


In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.


Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.