Pearl Jam – Gigaton: A masterclass in grunge virtuosity
From the bombastic opening track Who Ever Said all the way through to the melancholic final notes of River Cross, Pearl Jam’s Gigaton is a tour de force and masterclass in how to craft grunge sounds for the modern age. 30 years since the founding of the Seattle-based group and seven years after the release of their last studio album (the Grammy-winning Lightning Bolt), their eleventh LP proves that the rock icons are just as relevant today by bringing their still-recognisable tones of the 90s into the modern age with sophistication, maturity, and inventive musicality.
Pearl Jam are known for continuously pushing themselves creatively while maintaining their distinctive identity and values, and their latest collection of tracks is a testimony to this central philosophy. Making their ideology blatantly clear in protest song Quick Escape, for example, the artists show they’re here to be listened to – and we want to. But this doesn’t mean that Gigaton is completely serious; in fact, the opposite is true. Each track bears the distinctive mark of playful creativity that inevitably comes with experimentation. The blistering, breakneck tempo of Never Destination (calling to mind the upbeat riffs of 80s rock’n’roll) and Who Ever Said were made to be cranked up loud. Even the macabre lyrics of Buckle Up (written by guitarist Stone Gossard) are juxtaposed with a delightfully jaunty guitar riff.
By far the greatest accomplishment of this album is its sheer range in musicality and dynamics. Accompanying the aforementioned hard-hitting rock tunes, Gigaton is filled with just as many emotionally soulful songs, of the likes of Seven o’Clock and bluesy acoustic track Comes Then Goes, that contain just as much dynamism, heart, and virtuosity as anything else on the track list.
The crowning jewel, however, is undoubtedly Retrograde. Sucking listeners in and blowing them away in a matter of seconds, this song captures all of the components that make each track incredible and transforms them into a soaring epic, with Vedder’s vocals appearing not to have aged a day since the era of Ten.
Retrograde is a track that’s almost impossible to follow, but the finale River Cross is a thematically fitting conclusion to this rich collection. Though it’s phenomenal in its own right, the choice for it to fizzle out is a somewhat underwhelming and anticlimactic conclusion to this musical odyssey. It’s not enough, though, to dampen the experience.
Photo: Danny Clinch
Gigaton is released on 27th March 2020. For further information or to order the album visit Pearl Jam’s website here.
Watch the video for Retrograde here: