One of Eddie Vedder’s idols, Roger Daltrey of the Who, once said that the secret to keeping “My Generation” fresh onstage half a century after it was written isn’t nailing the song’s stutter, but believably channeling its anger. It’s a sentiment Vedder would definitely endorse; the Pearl Jam frontman’s rage has always burned bright (this is a guy who once sounded super pissed-off singing about how people should play more vinyl). But as he’s matured, the youthful fury that fueled PJ’s golden-age grunge has grown with him, turning into a finely burnished middle-age indignation.
Now, on Gigaton, the first record Pearl Jam has mustered during the Trump administration, the group has blended the miasmic angst of “Jeremy” and “Alive” with a sense of tenderness and even flashes of hope. Although Trump is not the sole focus of the record, Vedder gives the president (“a tragedy of errors,” in EdVed’s words) plenty of airtime. On “Quick Escape,” a chunky anthem with an echoey, U2-like riff, Vedder details his journey “to find a place Trump hadn’t fucked up yet.” On the surprisingly Springsteen-y standout “Seven O’clock,” he name-checks indigenous leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, mythic insurgents who stood up to the U.S. government, and calls the president “Sitting Bullshit.” He praises the titular character from Sean Penn’s Trump-inspired satirical novel Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff between avalanche riffs in “Never Destination” and paints a bleak picture on the gospel-tinged closing track, “River Cross,” describing how “the government thrives on discontent . . . proselytizing and profitizing as our will all but disappears.”
Yet, where the Vedder of 20 years ago might have hollered (or hooted) his blues, he mostly keeps his cool on Gigaton. Album opener “Who Ever Said” doubles as Vedder’s mantra for hope, as he sings, “Whoever said, ‘It’s all been said,’ gave up on satisfaction,” between Pete Townshend-inspired licks and a New Wave-style guitar solo. The music itself can be surprisingly upbeat — from the danceable electro-tinged curveball “Dance of the Clairvoyants” to the Soundgarden-size grunge-hulk “Take the Long Way,” penned by drummer Matt Cameron, to “Superblood Wolfmoon,” fun frat-party garage rock with “Louie Louie”-esque nonsense lyrics.
As the band’s first LP since 2013’s Lightning Bolt, there’s an attention to sonic and emotional detail, a focus on musical light and shade, which reflects the album’s lengthy gestation. The record is sequenced with the rockers upfront and slower, more meditative songs at the back, as if the band is exhaling. “Come Then Goes” is a poignant acoustic eulogy for a fallen friend (perhaps the late Chris Cornell), and on “River Cross” Vedder begs us all to “share the light” over his own pump-organ line. Gigaton is a testament to how Pearl Jam’s own deeply held dissatisfaction still burns brighter than ever.