What Critics Are Saying About Pearl Jam’s ‘Gigaton’
Pearl Jam’s eleventh studio album, Gigaton, won’t officially be released until March 27. However, many music industry insiders have gotten an early glimpse at the LP and the initial response has been overwhelmingly positive.
In the roughly seven year period between the band’s last album, 2013’s Lightning Bolt, and Gigaton, each member of Pearl Jam has embraced various side projects. Among them, frontman Eddie Vedder collaborated with Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard, guitarist Mike McCready worked with Brazilian rocker Nando Reis, while Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament revisited some of their early work with Mother Love Bone. These far-ranging and eclectic influences can be felt on Gigaton, a point not lost on the A.V. Club’s Alex McLevy.
“The intervening years saw the members embark on a variety of solo projects and side gigs,” the reviewer noted. “Some of those disparate ventures must have rubbed off on the group, because there’s a broad expanse of influences, sounds, and instruments at work (on Gigaton).”
McLevy went on to observe the impressive blend of sonic styles found throughout the album. “Alternating between classic guitar riffage, sputtering ’80s-style new wave, epic layers of vocal collage, and awkward fusions of the three, the record tries to be all things to all people, a crowd-pleasing delivery of rock ’n’ roll interwoven with art-damaged aspirations of something more,” the writer opined in his review.
Likewise, Consequence of Sound’s Matt Melis praised the group for continuing to grow their sound. “While the planet may not be well and the message often dire and foreboding, the band themselves show zero signs of flat-lining. It’s been ages since Pearl Jam, the studio band, have come across as this dialed in, innovative, and sincere in their songwriting.”
Melis went on to ponder whether “a planet on a climatic knife’s edge and a democracy in peril” were necessary to inspire such strong material from the band. Indeed, global warming and the Donald Trump administration loom large as influences throughout the LP. Ultimately, the writer surmised that the impetus for such work is far less important than the work itself. “Regardless of the precise catalyst, Pearl Jam have now brought us Gigaton — an album of thunder and tranquility, portent and hope — in a time when we desperately need to understand both.”
In yet another glowing piece, Kory Grow of Rolling Stone celebrated the group’s ability to harness the same anger and rage that fueled them in the grunge era, even as Pearl Jam ages into senior statesmen of rock. “Gigaton is a testament to how Pearl Jam’s own deeply held dissatisfaction still burns brighter than ever,” the writer declared, adding that Vedder’s “youthful fury” has evolved into “a finely burnished middle-age indignation.”
Zach Schonfeld of Paste labeled Gigaton “the band’s most adventurous and engaged material in several presidential administrations,” though he cautioned that there are “duds mixed amongst its 57-minute runtime.” As a result, he gave the album a seven out of ten rating, opining that, “Pearl Jam went and made a good album—their best, I think, since Riot Act or perhaps even Binaural.”
Writing for English music magazine Kerrang!, George Garner praised the release as “a triumph,” describing Gigaton as “a record fueled by a feeling of burning indignation” and noting that its songs are “extraordinary.”
Likewise, Associated Press entertainment writer Mark Kennedy raved about Gigaton’s “fascinating and ambitious” tones, noting that the LP has “a cleaner, crisper sound that is studded with interesting textures, topped by Eddie Vedder’s still-indignant voice.”
In a review for Stereogum, Ryan Leas cautioned fans against basing their expectations on the electro-tinged lead single, “Dance of the Clairvoyants.” “Pearl Jam sound more adventurous than they have in close to 20 years on Gigaton, but this is not their synth album or any other kind of holistic overhaul,” the critic explained. Leas later remarked that the LP “leans into a more nuanced, immersive side of Pearl Jam’s sound, with songs that bear the appropriate sense of awe when considering the dying breed of arena-rock drama they are still capable of conjuring as well as the natural landscapes that inform the album.”
NME, meanwhile, focussed a lot of their praise on the urgency of Vedder's delivery. "Here his well-honed, biting lyrics signal fury at a world that seems to have lost its way entirely," writer Anita Bhagwandas declared, adding that "the political climate comes into fire and references to grief and loss abound."
While each of these critics noted stand-out tracks from Gigaton, the album's fourth track, “Quick Escape,” seemed to garner the most universal praise. The A.V. Club called it the “noisiest moment” on the release, with guitar parts described as “mind-altering” by Consequence of Sound, which Rolling Stone referred to as “U2-like.” Paste complimented the track's "swaggering intensity," while Stereogum noted that the song’s lyrics “talk of fleeing to far-flung lands to seek refuge from the headlines of the day, before rupturing into a chorus that, no joke, feels like it could’ve been on one of Pearl Jam’s early ’90s releases.”
Fans will be able to form their own opinions when Gigaton is officially unveiled on March 27. The album is available for pre-order now.