MUSIC REVIEW | Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt (2013)

When I heard Mind Your Manners, the first single from Lightning Bolt, I was more excited about a new Pearl Jam album than I had been for years.   It had a kind of raw, punk energy to it that I just don’t expect from Eddie Vedder and the boys these days.  Then the snore inducing blandness that is Sirens was released as the second single and a little of the shine was taken off.

So it was promising when I pressed play on their latest album to hear that Getaway, the first track, is also a bit of a rocker. The title track offers up a kind of musical and melodic optimism, complete with a poppy synth, that reminds me of the best songs off their last album Backspacer.  Then there’s Infallible, a peppy jaunt that I would never have picked as a Pearl Jam song if it wasn’t for Vedder’s voice.  Yellow Moon sounds like a Vedder solo tune that could have been on his Into the Wild soundtrack a few years ago, with a couple of extra layers of instrumentation and production added on to make the rest of the band feel necessary.

While I know a lot of it comes down to nostalgia, I think Pearl Jam’s first three albums are close to perfect.  Sure, they have the odd clunker, but Ten, Vs, and Vitalogy are albums I still listen to beginning to end fairly regularly, 20 years after they came out.  I also know I can’t expect the middle aged rich dudes of 2013 to ever make the same sort of music as the hungry Seattle rock pigs of 1992, and I know I shouldn’t want them to.  But it doesn’t stop me wishing for an amazing Stone Gossard riff like Evenflow or Animal.  Or balls out Vedder screamer like Blood or Spin the Black Circle.  Or some of the shredding solos Mike McCready was delivering on the regular in the 90s.

Like the first two singles, I found Lightning Bolt a little hit and miss.  When it hits, it hits hard. When it misses, they’re the kind of songs I can’t imagine I’ll ever listen to again.  But Lightning Bolt is more than enough to make me glad that more than 20 years after blowing my 13 year old mind, Pearl Jam are still doing their thing, even if that thing has evolved more than my tastes.   But that’s on me.

Pearl Jam
Listen to Lightning Bolt on Spotify

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