The Seattle natives return with their 10th studio album. With experience on their side, Chris Duffy argues that it’s one of the band’s finest efforts to date.
Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
It seems a lifetime ago now that grunge music appeared seemingly from nowhere, causing hundreds of teens to don long greasy hair, hi-top sneakers and jeans cut off at the knees. Pearl Jam were one of many bands, including Nirvana and Soundgarden, to benefit from this rise. Their debut album Ten is widely considered an all time classic and still sounds as good today as when it was released 22 years ago. Now, having just released their tenth studio album – which, for those wondering, is not called One – Pearl Jam find themselves with what can be described as more of a cult following rather than a normal fanbase.
Lightning Bolt kicks off with ‘Getaway’, a chunky groove which showcases drummer Matt Cameron’s ability to hold a steady hard-hitting beat and contains Eddie Vedder vocals strangely reminiscent of Swedish rockers The Hives. It is followed by first single “Mind Your Manners”, which starts in double quick time and does not let up throughout it’s punch two and half minute length. Once again a chunky guitar line battles it out with the thumping of Cameron’s drums in what seems like a fight for supremacy, a flaw apparent in all of Lightning Bolt‘s more disappointing moments. It’s the downfall of not only this track, but also the album’s title track which follows. Both feel far too heavy for their own good and it proves a struggle to keep up, as each member of the band seemingly attempts to see who can play their respective instrument the loudest.
Yet the rest of the record more than makes up for this slightly questionable start. Indeed, later tracks shine to the extent that Lightning Bolt must be considered Pearl Jam’s most sincere and musically accessible album to date.
The band still show glimpses of their grunge roots on superb early track ‘My Fathers Son’, but on the whole they slow things down to provide a deep and enthralling sound. The first glimpse of this is on most recent single ‘Sirens’, a slow-burning, bluesy tune which allows Vedder’s superb vocal range to reach its softer extremes: “For every choice, mistake I’ve made,/It’s not my plan,/To see you in the arms of another man”. It’s Pearl Jam at their lyrical finest.
Indeed, on tracks such as’Infallible’, ‘Sleeping By Myself’ and ‘Swallowed Whole’, Lightning Bolt demonstrates a lyrical strength rarely associated with the band. Further stand out tracks come in the form of ‘Pendulum’, the band’s standard set opener on their current tour. Opening with haunting piano, Vedder achingly croons “Can’t know what’s high/’Til you been down so low,/The future’s bright,/Lit up with no where to go,/To and fro the pendulum throws”.
The album closes with yet another piano-tinged epic in ‘Future Days’. Once again it is a song that never seems to explode into life, but burns brightly enough throughout that it leaves a long lasting effect. Not for the first time in the band’s history (see Ten‘s epic ‘Black’), loss and eternal hope are the themes addressed: “If I ever were to lose you, I’d lose myself” cries Vedder, wrenching at the heart of the listener. Yet ultimately the album closes on a high, with the song taking a positive turn: “I believe,/And I believe cause I can see,/Our future days,/Days of you and me”.
And indeed, the album fades to a close with you feeling that the future days of Pearl Jam could well be some of their best yet. Despite a few overly-heavy moments, Lightning Bolt is a record with significant depth and feeling. 22 years and ten albums down the line, the greasy long hair and hi-tops have gone, but Pearl Jam’s ability to make a great record has not. Quite possibly their best album since their debut.
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