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Pearl Jam’s members are older than the members of the Rolling Stones were when they released Steel Wheels. They’re older than Neil Young was when he released Harvest Moon. And their senior members — drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Jeff Ament — are older than Bob Dylan was when he released Time Out Of Mind. Like those artists, their legacy is secure, and the band could easily sustain themselves and their team by simply touring. They’ve been doing just that for years — their last album was 2013’s Lightning Bolt.

When we heard the first preview of the new album, “Dance Of The Clairvoyants,” fans were wondering if Gigaton was going to be Pearl Jam’s Achtung Baby; the synthesizers and funkier-than-usual basslines seemed like a huge departure for the guitar-based band. And that would have been incredibly daring for a group who has been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for three years. Alas, the rest of the album isn’t as radical as “Dance.” But the songs are still vital; they all have a focus. It’s obvious that Ament, Cameron, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready and singer Eddie Vedder created this album because they still have something to say, even if they really have nothing to prove.

The album is filled with highlights: “Dance Of The Clairvoyants” is definitely one; another is “Quick Escape,” which veers almost as close to Led Zeppelin as “Given To Fly” did. The Ament-composed song features some of his most aggressive, Entwistle-ian bass playing, and some of McCready’s wildest guitar jamming. The opening riff from “Take The Long Way” sounds like Soundgarden — which is no surprise, given that Matt Cameron wrote the song, including the lyrics; Vedder generally writes his own, and this song is one of the three on the album where he didn’t.

Another exception to the rule is the lovely Stone Gossard-penned ballad, “Buckle Up,” which sounds like something he might have written for his underrated and now-defunct band, Brad. That’s followed by “Comes Then Goes,” a song written by Vedder which sounds like it could be a wave goodbye to friends who are no longer with us. (Brad’s singer, Shawn Smith, passed away last year; Gigaton is Pearl Jam’s first album since the death of Chris Cornell.) “Where ya been?… Can I find/A glimpse of my friend /Don’t know where or when one of us left /The other behind /Divisions came and troubles multiplied /Incisions made by scalpel blades of time.” Those are lyrics that a younger person, perhaps, couldn’t write.

Decades ago, Vedder sang, “All that’s sacred, comes from youth.” And if you were in your teens and twenties in the mid-’90s, you probably agreed… and you might have added “and also, all of the good music. That comes from youth, too.” But now, as a band of guys in their 50s, Pearl Jam has proven to be the rare band (along with U2 and maybe Radiohead) who never broke up and who still matter after more than a quarter-century together.

 

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