Pearl Jam unveiled its upcoming 11th studio album “Gigaton” today at NeueHouse in Los Angeles during an intimate playback in Dolby Atmos sound — complete with frontman Eddie Vedder pouring tequila shots for attendees while the music blared. As previously reported, “Gigaton” will be released March 27 on the band’s Monkeywrench imprint through Republic, and is preceded by the Talking Heads-tinged first single “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” which dropped earlier this week.
Produced by the group in tandem with longtime collaborator Josh Evans, the 12-track “Gigaton” is arguably the band’s strongest and most diverse work since 1998’s “Yield.” It begins with the driving rocker “Who Ever Said,” with Vedder intoning, “All the answers will be found in the mistakes we have made,” and shifts directly into the similarly propulsive “Super Blood Wolf Moon,” featuring a sizzling Mike McCready guitar solo.
“Quick Escape” is led by a huge Jeff Ament bass groove, as Vedder narrates an international road trip armed with a “sleep sack, a bivouac and Kerouac sense of time.” “Alright” builds more slowly atop an uplifting melody, with Vedder offering, “if your heart still beats free, keep it to yourself.” Vedder said he is particularly proud of the lyrics on track “Seven O’Clock,” which evokes trippy, Pink Floyd vibes and finds him in full falsetto as the song winds down. “That one started as a jam early in the recording sessions, and then they moved on and did other things,” Evans tells Variety. “We went through and pulled out a bunch of different cool moments and cut them together, and then the band layered a bunch of new things on top of it.”
“Never Destination” evokes strident, uptempo Pearl Jam songs such as “MFC” with a tinge of U.K. post-punk, and features another strong solo from McCready. The Matt Cameron-penned “Take the Long Way” is a riffy monster in one of the drummer’s famous tricky time signatures, as Vedder shouts, “I always take the long way/ It leads me back to you.”
“Buckle Up,” written by guitarist Stone Gossard, surfs a dexterous major-key guitar line and is one of the more abstract songs on the album, but serves as the perfect lead-in to Vedder’s “Comes Then Goes,” sporting Pete Townshend-worthy acoustic guitar aggression and the memorable lyric, “We could all use a savior from human behavior.”
Evans says, “I think that vocal is maybe what we got on the first take. It was just about capturing the moment and being ready to hit ‘record’ to memorialize that feeling.”
“Gigaton” concludes with two exquisitely layered, slow-burning tracks. “Retrograde,” which dates back to recording sessions from 2017, is reminiscent of 2010-era Pearl Jam singles such as “Just Breathe” and “Sirens.” The song builds to a massive crescendo as Vedder repeatedly bellows the phrase “feel the sound.”
“River Cross” is the only song on the album previously performed live, albeit in Vedder’s solo concerts, and recalls Peter Gabriel-era Genesis songs such as “Carpet Crawlers” in its simmering intensity (lyrics include “I want this dream to last forever / I wish this moment was never-ending”). With Vedder on an 1850s-era pump organ and Ament on kalimba, it caps a gripping listening experience that found even Vedder choked up as he took it all in. “I’ve never had that much tequila in the afternoon,” he joked afterward.
“The pump organ on the finished track is from the original demo. The rest of the band felt it was so powerful,” Evans says. “They all put on these little delicate layers to help turn it into a true Pearl Jam song, like Mike with a little E-bow thing or Stone with just a hint of acoustic guitar. I even blended some synthesizers in.”
Pearl Jam’s notoriously diehard fanbase got their first taste of “Gigaton” on Jan. 11, when mysterious augmented reality billboards featuring Paul Nicklen’s album cover photo of a Norwegian ice waterfall appeared in 12 cities worldwide. Using a dedicated filter on Instagram or Facebook Lens, fans could watch the ice rapidly melt while an instrumental audio snippet from the album played in the background.
“The band wanted to scale something globally and create a unique fan experience so that wherever they were in the world, they were all discovering it in the same way at the same time,” says Pearl Jam management’s Scott Greer, who is overseeing the “Gigaton” marketing roll-out. “Everyone interacted with it differently. Some people were walking in front of the animation, and then we saw one little girl tapping on the moving waterfall. That engagement and interaction made it more than just a Pearl Jam album cover — it made it universal.”
Greer encouraged the band to mix “Gigaton” in Dolby Atmos and present it in that format at today’s playback to highlight Evans’ production work. Indeed, “Gigaton” is believed to be the first album released by the Universal Music Group in Dolby Atmos sound. “It’s such a unique way to experience the album and appreciate the level of effort the band put into it,” says Greer.