Album Review: Pearl Jam - Gigaton

Pearl Jam are often seen as the last remaining grunge band, the last bastions of the genre, keeping the flame alight thirty years after Nirvana propelled it into the public consciousness. It's a fair assumption; with tracks like the anthemic 'Alive' and 'Even Flow', Pearl Jam were one of the main acts to come from the movement and hardly any of the rest remain. Nirvana were abruptly halted by Kurt Cobain's death, Soundgarden followed the same fate - albeit much later - due to Chris Cornell's tragic demise, and though Alice in Chains are still going, it's without their also deceased frontman Layne Staley. Not even Scott Weiland, the vocalist of Stone Temple Pilots, is with us anymore. Somebody wrap Eddie Vedder up in cotton wool right now.

But the assumption that they are still waving the grunge flag is a mistaken one, a fact which becomes increasingly prevalent the more Gigaton, their new release, goes on. This record is not Ten, far from it. Pearl Jam have evolved with the times and this album could be from a completely different band to the one that emerged three decades ago.

At first, this record was rather underwhelming. Having not heard much of Pearl Jam other than that iconic first album, it was not the musical style that was the ears were expecting to hear. If your only knowledge of Pearl Jam is their early work, your expectations will need to be adjusted; with tracks like 'Alright', 'Seven O'Clock' and 'River Cross', there is a sense of evolution, of the need to keep things fresh, even this deep into their career.

It's not totally unfamiliar, as grungey songs do still appear. 'Superblood Wolfmoon', 'Never Destination' and 'Take The Long Way' hark back to the band's origins, providing a bit of comfort for those who want to sink back into the Pearl Jam they remember from their youth. Even on these tracks, though, the guitar tones aren't quite as distorted as they used to be, with Vedder and co. preferring a crunchy tone with a bit of bite rather than the full send of distortion. It's all just that little bit different.

Gigaton's highlights, however, are when the band really leans into experimentation. 'Retrograde' is a beautiful number, full of ethereal tones and soaring pads, really taking you away from the troubles of the current world. 'Dance of the Clairvoyants' is certainly the cherry, though, with an opening reminiscent of the 1980s synthpop era and an overall feel like that of David Bowie's 'Let's Dance'. 'Dance of the Clairvoyants' is what would happen in Nile Rodgers produced a Pearl Jam record - only they did it of their own accord. If you were to show this to a Pearl Jam fan in 1992, saying this is their future, they'd have scoffed in your face. The band have a come a long way.

What this does mean is that Gigaton won't be for everyone. Despite its occasional forays into the old-school sound, this record is clearly from a band who have let go of their past, in favour of remaining creative. While this won't please everyone, it keeps the band ticking along nicely and ensures that their passion for the band doesn't die out. As long as you keep things fresh, a job won't get boring - and this from Pearl Jam is certainly fresh. It may not be what some expect, but respect to Pearl Jam for refusing to become a solely nostalgic act.


EDIT: We just put on Ten and immediately, the first part of 'Once' sounds like 'In The Air Tonight' by Phil Collins, so perhaps 'Dance of the Clairvoyants' isn't entirely unprecedented after all.


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