What crazy days we have all been living over the last two weeks or so. The COVID-19 pandemic has seemed to put a damper on so many fun aspects we take for granted in life. The first signs that struck Pearl Jam fans was the postponement of the North American leg of the Gigaton tour slated to begin in mid March. Pearl Jam was one of the first bands to see the devastation happening in their very own state of Washington and decided to put the breaks on everything tour wise for the health of all parties involved. It was the right move. There is no doubt in my mind that when this world crisis subsides Pearl Jam will be back and rock us even harder than before.
Until that day arrives we can all enjoy their 11th studio album Gigaton that dropped today (3/27/20). It’s been a long seven years since the band dropped Lightening Bolt in 2013 which divided fans and critics alike. It certainly wasn’t my favorite Pearl Jam but it did contain some fantastic material like “Pendulum”. It’s cliche to say that Gigaton is a “back-to-basics” type album but it kinda plays out that way. The group is certainly more focused and the songs hit in a more direct way than anything the band has released since the Avocado days. It’s always a great sign when every member of the band is contributing on the songwriting front and new producer Josh Evans has Pearl Jam sounding as modern as possible in 2020. So go ahead, pop in the CD, spin that black circle or stream it as you please while struck in quarantine. There will be brighter days on the five horizons….
Who Ever Said – A fast charging rocker with a soaring chorus that properly kicks off Gigaton in style. Always a fan when Pearl Jam lets it rip straight from the gate. This is going to be a nice addition to the setlists whenever the Gigaton world tour can launch.
Superblood Wolfmoon – Pearl Jam keeps the high intensity swagger flowing on Gigaton’s surf rock inspired second single. The song features a pretty bad ass howling guitar solo from Mike McCready. It’s going to be a great addition to the live sets.
Dance of the Clairvoyants – The very first tasting from the Gigaton era. The sounds of The Talking Heads meets Devo. One of the freshest sounds the band has cooked up in well over a decade. I must have listened to it over a dozen times while attempting to buy tickets to see the band at Madison Squads Garden during the fan pre-sale in January. It was a lucky charm because I did score tickets (behind the stage). Very much looking forward to this Garden Party whenever the COVID-19 crisis is over.
Quick Escape – Heavy Led Zeppelin guitar riffs open this tune with Eddie singing into a slightly distorted mic. A real throwback cut composed musically by Jeff Ament. Again more fantastic guitar soloing taking place as the song draws to a conclusion. The band has really upped their game with some meaty guitar work on this go around. Pearl Jam also suggest that mankind’s future might rest on another planet like Mars. “And here we are, the Red Planet/ Craters across the skyline/ A sleep sack in a bivouac/ And a Kerouac sense of time.”
Alright – Jeff Ament supplies the music and lyrics to this spacey keyboard led track that eerily describes the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s alright, to shut it down, Disappear in thin air, it’s your home, it’s alright, to be alone.”
Seven O’Clock – The best way of describing this 6 minute slow burn anthem (the longest on Gigaton) is Bruce Springsteen meets mid 80s Pink Floyd synthesizers. One of the strongest tracks from this LP hands down.
Never Destination – Another chugging rocker returns for the album’s mid point junction to liven things up again. The tune even name checks Sean Penn’s debut novel “Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff”. It’s a breath of fresh air that all the rockers found on Gigaton avoid the cliche traps they were previously seen on Pearl Jam songs like “Ole” and “Can’t Deny Me”. Nobody wants this group on auto pilot.
Take The Long Way – The guitar thrashing continues on this Matt Cameron composed track. Not only does Matt supply the steady drum fury but he also sings backup vocals along with Meagan Grandall (aka Lemolo) which I believe is the first time a female has appeared vocally on a Pearl Jam record.
Buckle Up – Leave it to Stone Gossard to supply Gigaton with its most unique and gentle sounding offering despite extremely dark lyrics. I absolutely love this acoustic chord progression. It’s dreamy, it’s melancholy and feels like a tragic lullaby. This tune reminds me of Pearl Jam’s attempt at a sequel for Radiohead b-side “Killer Cars”.
Comes Then Goes – This one could almost be a track from Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack album to the film Into The Wild. To my ears it sounds like only Eddie and his trusty acoustic guitar. The subject matter is rumored to be about the passing of longtime friend Chris Cornell. Only time will tell if that is the case or not. Either way it’s an ode to friends long since gone. “We could all use a savior from human behavior.”
Retrograde – Mike McCready wrote the music for Gigaton’s spacey penultimate track that features former veteran producer Brendan O’Brien on supporting keyboards. This is another track that could have easily been on the Into The Wild soundtrack. Eddie’s lyrics allude to the destruction of Mother Earth by mankind. Will this be the final verse contributed by humanity before its downfall? We shall see.
River Cross – The fingerprints of Neil Young are all over this rousing finale to Pearl Jam’s 11th studio album. Think “Like A Hurricane” from MTV Unplugged meets “Organ Solo” from the Dead Man film soundtrack. You have the classic pump organ swirling and Eddie longing for a dream that seems unattainable. “I want this dream to last forever, A wish denied to lengthen our time, I wish this moment was never ending, Let it be a lie that all future’s die….”