I feel like I need to preface this with the statement that I love Pearl Jam. Like, Lightning Bolt is one of my favourite albums of all time and Ten was one of the first albums I ever bought. So I was pretty excited to have some new music from them…
I just… it’s not… great.
Not in a catastrophic way–it’s not even bad, it’s just boring.
My reaction to this album was kind of the same one I had for Sonic Highways by Foo Fighters. There was a really high expectation because of the previous album and they could have done something really interesting and innovative but they didn’t. It’s like they were too cautious about it.
Part of me didn’t even want to talk about this album at all and pretend it passed me by but I think it’s important to be critical about music and if I can say something productive about the album then I should.
So I’m not going to slam this band, because I do love them, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect and have never released music I didn’t enjoy.
Anyway, here we go!
First Impressions Are Key
I feel like it’s impossible to talk about this album and not compare it to other albums Pearl Jam has released–especially since there are albums I LOVE and this isn’t one of them. I got to thinking “what is it about those other albums that this album doesn’t have?”
So, Lightning Bolt starts with the track Getaway which has this opening build-up with guitars layering in over the drums until the vocals come in and we get this funky bass riff. It’s a song that has this self-assured bounce to it as the lyrics talk about belief and perseverance. It pulls you into the album immediately. Overall, it takes about 15 seconds for all the elements of the song to come together.
In Gigaton, we start with this track:
We have a slow fade in that builds in ambiance and starts with guitars before we get drums and bass. It takes about 40 seconds for the song to really get started and the lyrics have far less bite to them as they focus on being given false information and being overexposed to different sources for information.
This song takes over twice as long to get moving and even when it does it still doesn’t have the same momentum that their previous one did. The lyrics even leave something to be desired as the chorus is two lines repeated so many times that it gets annoying by the time the song is even halfway done. I mean, this is a 5 minute song that really likes to repeat itself even within the same line.
There’s nothing in this song that makes me want to listen to it again or make me curious about what is to come–other than to wonder if it gets better. It’s a rocky way to start an album.
Just Keep On Keeping On
The first time I sat down to listen to this album in full I got about halfway before I gave up and went on to do something else.
I think what really disappointed me about this album is that there are so many moments that I do like about it and yet there isn’t anything I could point to and say that it was amazing or really cool like I could with past albums.
This is an album that just sort of keeps going. It’s not particularly long–though I don’t think any of these songs deserved to be over 5 minutes and a handful of them are anyway–but it feels long because nothing happens to shake things up. It feels like a 60 minute long single song with the occasional transition in sound.
Even the shortest song, Buckle Up, loses steam pretty fast.
This album just doesn’t have any energy to it, like it’d rather be in bed then telling a story, and it makes it difficult to listen to it all the way through in one sitting–something I never managed to do.
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Like I said to begin with: this isn’t a bad album. There’s nothing here that makes me lose faith in this band and I will continue to be interested in what they release in the future.
But this album feels hesitant and safe, like they knew they couldn’t pull off Lightning Bolt again so they went in the complete different direction. The energy and fun is gone in this album and instead we get half-thought out lyrics about being melancholy and lonely… for 60 minutes. I’m not the most upbeat person but even I can’t take that much angst all at once.
There are still some great guitar moments and I really do like the bass in the opening track, but the heart is gone. This album has no confidence in itself and no teeth to fight with.