Before they had anything – a legion of devoted fans, platinum walls, a target festival – Pearl Jam had a community. In the Seattle grunge scene of the early 90s, they emerged as part of a larger mosaic that was a member of a supergroup before their debut even came out. This support from contemporaries may have enabled Pearl Jam to find her voice and write serious, soaring rock songs inspired by punk, but delivered as arena anthems in live jam band style marathon sets. Now that they’re an industry in themselves, their genesis seems like a footnote – especially in 2020, when they’re the last band left intact by their respective scene. But this feeling of uplift still defines her work.
Communal benevolence is the saving grace of Gigaton, her eleventh studio album and the first in almost seven years. At 57 minutes, it is the longest album that has lasted the longest. You feel the weight of both durations. The ballads slowly expand and the uptempo numbers are derailed by meandering piles, such as: From the curveball disco rock of the first single “Dance of the Clairvoyants”
Pearl Jam was composed of the noises Gigaton together from different sessions over several years, with Vedder subsequently adding vocals to the selection bits. It is hard to imagine that this process leads to a consistent statement from a band, let alone one that already has problems finding inspiration. According to records like 2009 Backspacer and 2013 lightning fought their lack of ideas with low stakes thrashiness – a relapse to the noisy garage band they never were –Gigaton Try to restore her ambition. It was co-produced by the band and Josh Evans and contains all the markings of cerebral rock music born in the studio: drum loops and programmed synthesizers, swirling keys and fretless bass, broad dynamics and expansive textures. For the first time in a while, the slower cuts are the decisive moments: songs like “Retrograde” and “Seven O’Clock” that develop patiently into their atmosphere, in contrast to pro forma tantrums like “Never Destination” that are never quite find their groove.
In order to standardize this extensive material, Vedder offers verbose, zoomed-out texts that deal directly with Trump, the climate crisis and a growing feeling of apocalyptic unease. And if his lyrics occasionally get mixed up (“They give and take / And you’re struggling to keep what you deserve”) or completely miss the mark (a reference to the title character of Sean Penn’s novel) is his accomplishment as encrypted and reassuring as ever. In all the studio experiments on the record, the moments that prevail are the subtle decisions that he makes as a singer: his anxious speech in “Seven O’Clock”, how he mimics the wordless refrain of the eerie “Buckle Up”, the bubbling cry of the Choir in “Quick Escape”. With songs contributed by each band member, Gigaton is an undeniably democratic statement, but Vedder remains its pioneering light – the voice that enabled this particular band to survive an entire generation of imitators.
The artistic rejuvenation that Gigaton Delivering the goal still seems a bit out of reach. In this sense, it reminds me of U2 No line on the horizon– Another attempt at experimentation in late career after a series of basic statements. Both records spoil the artistic side of an influential band in a mostly superficial way – longer songs, inserted atmosphere, great attempts to philosophize the union – and at the same time withdraw from the actual subversion, which made them exciting in the first place. Like U2, Pearl Jam was able to maintain its legacy without major new studio work. But unlike U2, Pearl Jam seems content to deliver its messages to those who have already converted, with no interest in the mainstream attention that once came naturally. This self-confidence establishes this music and limits its ambition.
For a long time Pearl Jam had the unusual power to assert its individuality, to please the masses, to look into the future and to remain true to its own story. On GigatonThey admit that they don’t know what will happen next. Your message hits hardest in the final tracks: the singalong strummer “Retrograde” and the fragile pump organ ballad “River Cross”. Both tracks predict a darker sky with calm, soothing music. In the last moments of the record, Vedder offers a mantra: “Can’t hold on to me.” As the music swells and his voice suits the occasion, he changes from “me” to “us” – a last attempt to gather the community to unite before the coming storm.