It’s a classic Pearl Jam misdirect. Dance Of The Clarivoyants – the first single we heard from Gigaton – is a track that finds Eddie Vedder channeling David Byrne and his best Once In A Lifetime vocal quirks, over a nagging ECG monitor-esque riff (a motif echoed in physical form on the album’s artwork), which left you wondering just which Pearl Jam was going to turn up for their eleventh studio album.
Would it be the wilfully contrary one? The classic rock band that stuffed their first two albums with rock club dancefloor fillers? The one that says to hell with this rock nonsense, we’re all about electronica now?
But the key, perhaps, is found within Dance’s lyrics, as Vedder implores us to ‘save your predictions/And burn your assumptions’, which is wholly apt, as the band’s forthcoming album has a little bit of everything for everyone. It’s been seven years since the last Pearl Jam studio album, and the world has changed irrevocably since then. But thankfully some things remain reliably the same.
Opener Who Ever Said is a by-the-book Pearl Jam rocker, its chorus a plea to check ourselves and not give up – ‘Whoever said: “It’s all been said”, gave up on satisfaction’ – and offers a solution that: ‘All the answers will be found/In the mistakes that we have made…’
And mistakes the human race has made are writ large and discussed throughout, from global warming – the melting icebergs on its sleeve, and references to ‘seas raising’ and ‘oceans rising’ – to political dissatisfaction and rage.
This is the band that had arranged for the Trump baby blimp to be their guest of honour at their O2 show in 2018, after all, so it’s not exactly a surprise that there are some lyrical digs at the current occupier of the White House.
Nowhere is this more explicit than in album mid-point Seven O’Clock, a song that would sit comfortably in Springsteen’s canon, both sonically and lyrically. After references to Native American leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse who ‘forged the north and west’, Vedder reminds us that today we’ve ‘got Sitting Bullshit as our sitting president’.
It’s not all nihilism, though, as Vedder implores us that ‘this is no time for depression or self-indulgent hesitance/This fucked-up situation calls for all hands on deck’. The relentless Quick Escape’s narrative finds Vedder in pursuit of sanity somewhere other than the US – ‘Crossed the border to Morocco/Kashmir to Marrakech/The lengths we had to go to then/To find a place Trump hadn’t fucked up yet’.
But, ultimately, in these uncertain times, Pearl Jam have given us an unexpected album of hope. Welcome back.