Album of the Week: Pearl Jam, 'Gigaton'

Pearl Jam, 'Gigaton'
Pearl Jam, 'Gigaton' (Courtesy of Monkeywrench/Republic)
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As we continue to adjust to our strange state of being, musicians have altered their plans in varying ways. While everyone has halted live performances for audiences, some have taken to the internet to stream performances on a regular basis, while others have halted promotional appearances altogether. Some artists have delayed their new albums, while others seem content to release their new material now, or in some cases, even rush to release it faster than they otherwise might have. At the center of this storm, there's Pearl Jam, who had planned an extensive world tour surrounding their new record, Gigaton, only to wind up delaying their tour dates (as it turns out, they were one of the first artists to act in such a proactive manner regarding their live dates, making that difficult call in early March). The album itself was released according to schedule a few weeks ago, and it's apparent how it would have served as the cornerstone to Pearl Jam's ballyhooed live performances this spring and summer.

The album is a blend of their ever-urgent rock songs, alongside richly emotional, powerful ballads that sometimes verge on being outright power ballads. The album leaps out of the gate with a stretch of rock singles that you may have heard already on The Current, including "Quick Escape" and the drum-machine-tinged "Dance of the Clairvoyants." A notable highlight is "Superblood Wolfmoon," which is thoroughly ridiculous, was premiered via a spotty app that required a listener to literally point their phone at the moon, and yet may wind up the most endearing song from the album. In this weird spring of uncertainty, and frankly, death, the refrain "superblood wolfmoon / took her away too soon" has echoed through my head many a time while reading news updates, and there's something amost reassuring in assigning blame to a supernatural, astronomical entity.

The album settles eventually into some moodier tunes like "Alright" and "Seven O'Clock" and it's easy to imagine how a live set would ebb and flow around these songs. The tempo picks back up again, before the album concludes with a striking three-song stretch of "Comes Then Goes," "Retrograde," and "River Cross," each song conjuring its own emotions while they also flow together as a triptych. While Pearl Jam's setlists probably wouldn't have incorporated the entire record, Hazards of Love-style, the album is at least structured to feel like it could work in that fashion. Whereas other bands with this many decades under their belt sometimes feel content with rolling out a batch of songs as an outright excuse for touring, there's a real respect for the art form of crafting an album, and Pearl Jam certainly deserve credit for that.

Someday, Pearl Jam will return to the live stage, and we'll see how these songs get incorporated alongside the favorites from their incredible back catalog. For now, Gigaton is a tantalizing glipse of what-if, tiding us over for the band's next emotional release.

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