Pearl Jam released their eleventh album Gigaton on 27th March 2020 (Monkeywrench /Republic Records), and this time it could be said that the pearl that is Eddie Vedder shines again like akoya.
With Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood and Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley all gone, Vedder occupies a particularly mythical place among all fans of 80s/90s grunge.
And when this album kicks off with Who Ever Said and the distinctive lead vocalist starts to fly, it is difficult not to believe that the heady days of the classic Ten (released in 1991) are back. “Whoever said ‘It’s all been said’ gave up on satisfaction” sings Vedder in this chart friendly, hook-laden, number. The track provides a rocking start to the album, and it immediately feels like the relative disappointment of 2013’s Lightning Bolt is far behind us.
The opening track segues smoothly into another rocking number, Superblood Wolfmoon, which was released as the second single a month before the album launch. Here Vedder’s soulful vocals impose themselves again, while guitar legend Mike McCready lays down a melodic riff and shreds in the way only he knows how. McCready owns and plays so many guitars it is difficult to pin down exactly which he is brandishing here, but it is well-known that he counts a Fender Stratocaster, a Gibson Les Paul TV Model and a Gibson Les Paul Standard among his 1959-era favourite guitars.
On this album the two rock legends are joined by bassist Jeff Ament, guitarist Stone Gossard, and drummer Matt Cameron. One key difference is that their usual producer, Brendan O’Brien, has been (temporarily?) replaced by Josh Evans, who acquits himself with great credit.
The next track, the lead single Dance Of The Clairvoyants, has been critised for being too different to their familiar sound, as it mixes synthesizers with a Talking Heads’ style vibe. Vedder even sounds like Mr Big Suit at times with his vocal gymnastics, but you don’t need to be a Heads’ fan to see this track as another gem.
The outstanding Quick Escape starts out rocky and builds to a searing guitar solo, while Vedder sings: “Crossed the border to Morocco, Kashmir to Marrakech, the lengths we had to go to then, to find a place Trump hadn’t fucked up yet” – in one of several barbed references to the current US president.
Seven O’Clock does less for this critic, but it has been very well-received. A few mediocre tracks follow but the album steps up again with Comes Then Goes, with Vedder’s smooth delivery accompanied by some lovely acoustic strumming. The acoustic vibe continues with the gentle Retrograde and the album closes with the nearly six minute long Rivers Cross, featuring more of Pearl Jam’s biting political edge, with lines like ‘the government drives all discontent‘.
Gigaton represents an exhilarating and very welcome return to form by the Seattle-based band and, while not at the level of Ten, its diversity, rage and catchy melodies merits comparison. It is Eddie Vedder, however, who takes the whole show to another sphere, and as one critic put it “remains their guiding light; [his is] the voice that allow this particular band to outlast an entire generation…”.