New album is a nod to the past while weighs in to new territories.
Reviewing bands you are particularly fond of is always interesting. Intrinsically you’re biased to a sound that connected you with the group to begin with while also wanting to see some depth in songwriting and growth in concept. Some bands excel at this (Superchunk), some do not (Foo Fighters), some are AC/DC who can get by with the same three chords for four decades. Pearl Jam’s eleventh record, Gigaton, miraculously toes the line of all three.
The album is a return to form but not in the sense of the band’s apex of Ten, Vs. or Vitalogy. Rather, it captures the best parts of Yield and 2006’s self-titled, Pearl Jam. For a band that makes rawness in sound and presentation their calling card, there is a tremendous (and welcome) amount of refined approaches on the whole album. It’s the sonic equivalent of “they clean up well.” It’s a new look and yet one that is definably Pearl Jam.
It’s interesting to say that Gigaton sounds like Pearl Jam grown up, considering they’ve always talked about social and political issues, but the streamlined approach to this record makes everything sound more focused. Yet, the record does sound like Pearl Jam-by-numbers near the end. And still it’s not something you’re offended by as a listener.
Album opener, “Whoever Said,” announces a return to form with its guitar crunch while “Superblood Wolfmoon” is the garage rocker that’s been missing for over a decade. Similarly, “Never Destination” benefits from the focused album cohesion as the sole, seething, political rocker. Then there is “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” which is definitely a new look for the band and maybe the best song on Gigaton. It’s has a dancepunk shuffle that could’ve been on an LCD Soundsystem record. I could have an album of this.
Then there are the PJ clunkers that have littered their last two albums. “Alright” lives up (barely) to its name while “Buckle Up” isn’t up to par for Stone Gossard’s lone solo contribution. “Seven O’clock” is the clear standout on the slower tempo jams; the song clearly fits between “Corduroy” and “Betterman” on your Pearl Jam playlist.
Listen to songs like “Quick Escape” and “Retrograde,” maybe the best examples of the band teetering between old and new. You just want more.
It’s hard to say that this is a return to roots because they’ve always been Pearl Jam but it’s nice that that they’ve dropped the pop/new wave aesthetics they had been playing with on 2013’s Lightning Bol” and 2009s Backspacer. There is something to be said about a straight-ahead rock album just being a great straight-ahead rock album and Gigaton arrives at just the right time.
Welcome back Pearl Jam.