Pearl Jam since the turn of the century, has long had an interesting history when it comes to releasing new music. Their first three albums are absolute classics and are highly regarded. Then a switch happened after album number three, and things started to change. There were many different catalysts in that change and some of the material from that point on was disregarded at the time but, later became recognized for taking a chance and actually were very solid albums (No Code and Yield), while some fell flat and left people wondering what else they had in the tank (Binural and Riot Act). There were flashes though of what Pearl Jam was known for and their self titled album (or the Avacado album as many know it as) saw the band recapture a bit of what made them such a force to begin with. And then came Backspacer and Lightning Bolt. Both of which have good songs on them but as a whole, they really aren’t all that great. Which brings us to their new material and 11th studio album, Gigaton.
Gigaton is, as you’d expect Pearl Jam doing what they do. It’s got songs for everyone of their fans but, it doesn’t feel cohesive. It’s as though it was pieced together from various sessions the band has had over the course of a few years. The experimentation is welcoming but, the way it’s all arranged, doesn’t fit and leaves the listener in a bit confusion as to where this album is going. The record starts off with “Who Ever Said,” a very classic PJ rock track. This is a song that could very well have easily been heard on say VS and Vitology or even Yield. I would bet money that this song live will be one hell of a track. “Superblood Wolfmoon” is another “classic-ish” sounding PJ song but gets more into where they were experimenting. The guitar solo in the bridge section by Mike McCready is absolutely stunning though. That guy is an absolute gem and one of the most underrated guitarists. Again, this song live will go over quite well. “Dance Of The Clairvoyants” is one of the most daring songs the band has ever put out. At first it’s a bit strange but, the more you listen, the better it gets. It’s definitely out there and has a totally different vibe, venturing into almost Brian Eno territory. Lyrically, this is one hell of a song. “Quick Escape” is another solid rock tune that will again make it seem like it’s 1994 all over again. From this point though on the album is where things begin to shift and feel out of place. “Alright” provides this really interesting vibe with some introspective lyrics and a song that is very well written. “Seven O’Clock” is a very poignant song as well and could easily be mistaken for a Eddie Vedder solo song. “Never Destination” is another track that if played live, will go over extremely well. It’s got the potential to be a fan favorite for many years to come. “Take The Long Way” is a track with great guitar work and the rumbling bass gives this song a distinct vibe that feels like it could have been found on their self titled album. “Buckle Up” is a great lyrically driven song but, it’s one of the most out of place songs in terms of album sequencing. “Comes Then Goes” is a great song in terms of songwriting and arrangement abilities. It’s got this really cool “folky” sense to it with great melody. “Retrograde” is another well written song that just feels like it was placed in this spot with no proper introduction from one song to another. “River Cross” closes out the album with a deep seeded message and a bit of reassurance.
All in all, Gigaton is a solid album full of really strong songs but, it doesn’t have the cohesive feel to really make it feel whole. There is an huge sense of optimism on this album that is sure to make the listener think and when they listen again, pull other things out of it. That is something that all Pearl Jam albums have in common. They all make you get out of your comfort zone whether you like it or not. After multiple listens and then going back through the band’s catalog, I’ve come to a few conclusions about the shift that changed Pearl Jam. For one, the band is and for many many years has become Eddie Vedders. Stone Gossard was such an integral force in making Ten and VS so great but, his contributions seem to have been pushed to the side for many years. Also the drums. This is not a knock on Matt Cameron as a player but, he really just doesn’t quite fit the needs of Pearl Jam. When you go back to the albums that Dave Abbruzzese and Jack Irons played on, you can really feel the drums in a way that created a true pulse and that’s been lacking for many years. Matt Cameron plays with a sort of drag or low pulse that can’t keep up with the way things probably should sound. Another thing that Gigaton suffers from is its mix. It’s not mixed well at all. Brendan O’Brien, the man behind the boards for many of Pearl Jam’s albums, knew how to really make each instrument shine, even if the song was meh. Granted this whole album is a bit of an experiment, the final result of the mixes makes it feel a bit unfinished. In spite of all those things I just mentioned, Gigaton, does provide the rock music world a bit of something new and seemingly fresh from a band that for 30 years, has been consistently pushing themselves to deliver something more than just the same run of the mill sort of material many would just cave in to. With the right amount of time, Gigaton will settle in nicely to the bands catalog and take its own shape.
Overall Rating: B-/C+
Pearl Jam- Gigaton: