For over 30 years, Pearl Jam has traversed the globe bringing a signature grunge rock sound to the masses. Two years ago, the band took their musical journey beyond Earth’s gravity well with the album “Gigaton,” (opens in new tab) released on March 27, 2020.
“Gigaton” was originally going to have an “Apollo” launch of sorts in 2020 but it was delayed do to the covid-19 pandemic. Now, the band will take the stage at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City on Sept. 10, 2022. The show will air live on SiriusXM’s Pearl Jam Radio (Channel 22) (opens in new tab). The channel is also airing a recently released live version of the record called “Gigaton (Tour Edition).”
As for the album, I’ll begin off world for this review. “And here we are, the Red Planet/ Craters across the skyline/ A sleep sack in a bivouac/ And a Kerouac sense of time,” lead singer Eddie Vedder says in “Quick Escape,” the fourth track on the album. The song made this old sci-fi buff and musician recognize that something different (and spectacular) was happening. The band has looked to the stars for inspiration in a time when the Earth’s future is in jeopardy.
The subject in the song blasts off to Mars, partly to break free of divisions sown by the current tenant of the White House, whom the record mentions more than once. Pearl Jam released a video for “Quick Escape” in July 2022, seen on Youtube above.
After soaking in “Gigaton” in its entirety, I’ve extrapolated an underlying theme as the album progresses. In my personal interpretation, a bulk of it is a communication of the human condition as society teeters toward climate catastrophe.
Through the music and lyrics, I sense an outrage toward ignorance in the opening track “Who Ever Said,” and a spiritual view of the world in “Dance of the Clairvoyants” reminded me of the “overview effect” (opens in new tab) that astronauts experience, made famous by author Frank White.
The emotional roller-coaster ride that humanity is going through along with our changing planet is prevalent, in my eyes, in the songs “Comes Then Goes” and “Alright,” and I perceive messages of warning and hope in “Seven O’Clock,” “Retrograde” and “River Cross.”
It is also the second straight Pearl Jam record in which Vedder invokes the moon. “Moon changing shape and shade/ As we all do under its gaze/ Yellow moon on the rise,” he sings in “Yellow Moon,” (opens in new tab) from the band’s 2013 album, “Lightning Bolt.”
On “Gigaton,” the “Superblood Wolfmoon” takes center stage, the name obviously inspired by the wildly popular lunar eclipse of January 2019. To promote the track, the band recently released an augmented reality experience that has its users pointing their phones at the moon to preview the song.
The record’s cover, seen above, portrays a melting glacier, and gigaton is a common measurement unit for ice loss. It’s not surprising to see that Pearl Jam’s new music was influenced by our changing world; the band has taken a strong stance for carbon mitigation since 2003.
Carbon dioxide is warming the planet, according to the world’s leading climate scientists, and the “band allocates a portion of tour profits to invest in environmental projects that serve to offset or mitigate carbon dioxide that was released into the atmosphere on tours,” Pearl Jam’s website says.
As on previous records, the entire band contributed to “Gigaton’s” creation, with each member earning varying writing credits. The band’s lead guitarist, Mike McCready, called the album an “experimental road map to musical redemption.” He also added that “collaborating with my bandmates on ‘Gigaton’ ultimately gave me greater love, awareness and knowledge of the need for human connection in these times,” a statement on Pearl Jam’s website reads.
Musically, “Gigaton” fuses grunge, punk and psychedelic rock. Some of the songs slyly blend into one another, and the 12-string guitar on “Retrograde” induced goose bumps. It truly felt like I was listening to a concept record.
I am sure others may interpret the record differently, so I’m not going to spoil it any further for new listeners. But I certainly did gather that “Gigaton” is an emotional-political journey that is quintessential Pearl Jam, with an out-of-this-world twist this time around.
Editor’s note: After this story posted, Pearl Jam announced that they’ve postponed their tour (opens in new tab) and movie theater events due to the global health crisis. Visit PearlJam.com (opens in new tab) for more updates.
Editor’s note (Sept. 6, 2022): Story updated to include rescheduled Apollo Theater show date and new video for “Quick Escape.”