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Pearl Jam - Gigaton (Album Review)

Friday, 03 April 2020 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Danny Clinch 

The sound of Pearl Jam’s engines roaring into life used to prick the ears of millions. Thirty years ago they soared on the cutting edge of grunge’s commercial explosion, riding the plaid wave to monster sales and similarly expansive live gatherings, but like so many of their peers they now exist in the crowded liminal space between nostalgia and creative restlessness.

It’s true that their 11th studio LP ‘Gigaton’ kicking into gear isn’t the event that it might have been a couple of decades back, but that’s not to dismiss a mature, angry rock record that settles its scores with commanding presence.

This is a state of the world address—from its ice shelf sleeve image through to a series of polemics aimed at the current resident of the White House—that manages to skirt empty posturing thanks to the conviction in Eddie Vedder’s voice and a broad determination to avoid rote, overblown theatrics. 

There is a reedy, punkish edge to Stone Gossard and Mike McCready’s guitars, which skitter across Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron’s locked-in rhythm section.

Their years together have established deep foundations, and when they take on straight ahead rockers like Who Ever Said they go about their task with an economical sort of flair. Often, it’s as though they are delighting in how well they can do the basics. When they do open the taps, as on the riff-fest Never Destination, it feels deserved.

Still, there are a few moments that threaten to derail this propulsive dynamic. Alright is one of several quasi ballads that almost wallow in their watery keys, and while Seven O’Clock survives thanks to Vedder’s impassioned, deftly melodic chorus, it doesn’t stray far from the middle of the road. 

The world that Pearl Jam inhabit today is markedly different from the one they came up in, but ‘Gigaton’ is proof that they understand that fact. This is a contemporary record that shines a light on a band capable of rare feats of strength, but its greatest victory is found in the more prosaic arena of quality control. There are precious few mis-steps here, even when the stakes are high.



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