It’s been 29 years since Pearl Jam first released ‘Ten’ to the world. 16 million copies is an overwhelming amount of sales for any young band to handle. To then continue to flourish under that kind of shadow is paralysing for many. Just surviving the drugs, self-loathing and all-around anguish of the Grunge era would have been impressive. Yet here we are, 29 albums later: not just bashing out the classics on comeback tours and nostalgic festival slots, but genuinely creating new content, finding fresh things to say and making authentic and exciting connections with their consistently huge and loyal fan base.
So what do they have to say that could possibly be novel after all those releases and impossibly long live shows? Well bashing Trump is high on the agenda; as ‘Seven O’Clock decries; “Sitting Bullshit as our own sitting President,” a neat criticism of his relationship with Native Americans. There are now so many bands doing just that kind of political anger and incredulity at Trump that that is probably our new normal, but Gigaton does do it in an engaging and unique way. And it is a message we do need to keep hearing because as ‘Quick Escape’ suggests, “the lengths we go to …to find somewhere Trump hasn’t fucked up yet,” might even include getting humanity marooned on Mars.
Musically we have here everything we need – there’s tracks where Eddie Vedder still sounds vital and urgent, proving the band still have blood-pumping motivation (Dance Of The Clairvoyants, Never Destination). There’s good old guitar shredding that thankfully stops short of being gratuitous arena-tour-mainstream (Superblood Wolfman, Take The Long Way). It’s got frank and deeply-heartening songwriting (Who Ever Said), and songs that are recognizably Pearl Jam (Quick Escape) – look out especially for ‘Comes Then Goes’ whose acoustic guitar is reminiscent of that famous MTV Unplugged session of 1992.
The thing about the familiarity of, well, the bits that are familiar, is that it would be easy to just let it sweep over you – but, as alluded, these are songs with depth; they need mining – the ore needs sifting and smelting… Don’t miss the detail; the funk, the fills, the bass lines, the unorthodox arrangements; these are sirens that only multiple decades, albums and platinum sales can create. When we have pump organ (River Cross) and kalimba (Alright) to seduce us on the boat, how hard and uncompromising the lyrics are to drag us overboard…
Pearl Jam actually really needed this album to be a good one – no one wants to judge them forever through nostalgia tinted glasses – a disappointing LP now could taper their stellar career trajectory. But no worries – this is a diverse album full of cracking tunes fueled by incensed political anguish but also packed with lust and hope for life in our future. It’s an accomplishment of experience and talent. If these timelords want to rule on Mars I will happily make the journey, if for nothing more than to revel, while I can, in the unmistakable unique rasp and wail of Vedder – he’s not lost it.
Gigaton is out March 27th on Republic Records