ALBUM REVIEW: Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
Four years have passed since the release of their last studio album; ‘Backspacer’ and ‘Lightning Bolt’ seems to follow on seamlessly; maintaining the mature sound they discovered during ‘Yield‘ and ‘Vitalogy’ years (See Given to fly & Betterman).
‘Getaway’ kicks the game off with a big “F You!” to those who force their opinions and beliefs on you (religious zealots, Governments and scientists alike). “Mine is mine and yours won’t take its place, Now make your getaway”. Enough said here. Content echoes some of the tracks from ‘Riot Act’. ‘Mind Your Manners’, in contrast to ‘The Fixer’ on ‘Backspacer’ however is playing a different game. The rough grungy intro building up to Vedder’s rants echo’s the moods of ‘Lukin’, ‘Green Disease’ and ‘Do The Evolution’. Defiantly a modern day Grunge anthem.
‘Lightning Bolt’ slips into ‘My Fathers Son’, a raw rant about an absent useless father…. and echo maybe of Vedder’s true feelings for his absent father. The album takes a turn at this point. ‘Sirens’, possibly rivalling tracks like ‘Betterman’, ‘Nothingman’ and ‘Black’ for heart wrenching beauty; a contrast to the socially charged first quarter of the album. This, the second single off the album (like ‘Mind Your Manners’, written by Vedder and lead guitarist McCready), describes love in its deepest and darkest form, acknowledging it’s mortality, and inevitable agony, but its invaluable place in our lives.
As he does live on many a song, Matt “Hardest working man in Rock ‘n’ Roll” Cameron adding his backing vocals. Vedder has described him as the hardest working man in rock ‘n’ roll on many occasions, certainly on both times I’ve seen them live. Probably comes down to the fact that Mr. Cameron Plays for both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden (who recently reformed). Two world class grunge bands… no wonder the guy is so slender. On a personal note, I really wish this wasn’t released as a single; Radio stations tend to over play songs, degrading the feeling you get when you hear the distantly familiar opening chords, and this song, as powerful and emotionally saturated as it is, is still delicate in its beauty.
The title track, ‘Lightning Bolt’ enters subtly, but just over a minute in Macready is pulling all kinds of sounds out of his six string, so a very short lived subtlety. This is not a love song, more of a falling in love song; for me exploring the brutality of passion. It doesn’t grab you like ‘Mind Your Manners’ does, and being the song that lends its name to the album seems a little strange to me, as it’s not the strongest by a long shot, but it has potential to be an explosive live track. Back onto more cultural and social criticism from the mind of Mr. Vedder comes Infallible. Jeff Amend’s Bass sets a harsh contrast in the intro and verse to the kinder melody of the chorus allowing Vedder to push his point over. This song, lyrically reminds me of ‘Do The Evolution’ and ‘Bushleaguer’.
Although the first half of ‘Lightning Bolt’ is built of rants, ‘Sirens’ pulls it back inside to matters of the heart and ‘Lightning Bolt’ itself throws passion in the mix. The second half of the album begins with ‘Pendulum’. My mood on this track varies. I find parts of it very true (opening line for example), parts of it positive lyrically but then countered with negativity (second line for example). The tone set is very sad and in away primitive and tribal; building very raw and naked feelings; lyrical sciatica. ‘Swallowed Whole’ lifts the mood totally. Lyrically, to me echoes ‘Spin The Black Circle’ on ‘Vitalogy’; celebrating music as well as free thinking, creation and the world around us. A stark contrast to the first half of the album. Like ‘Lightning Bolt’, this will be an amazing live track and is placed perfectly on the album, lifting the mood and setting it up for ‘Let The Records Play’. Opening with a dirty blues intro, this is a great song. I must admit I ignored it on my first run through the album. Again, another uplifting tune celebrating music and what it does to us; not only for those who love to listen, but for those who love to play, like these guys do.
Although it’s been four years since ‘Backspacer’, the band have not been idle. Touring the world (which I had the privilege to experience for a second time) and working on other projects. Cameron Crowes documentary and compilation PJ 20, Vedder’s second studio album ‘Ukulele Songs’, Stone Gossard’s side project Brad; releasing two studio albums in 2010 ‘Best Friends’ and in 2012 ‘United We Stand’. As mentioned before Matt Cameron spent his time playing his part in the reuniting of Soundgarden as well as touring with both bands. Mike McCready spent 2012 working on side project Walking Papers (with Sreaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin who worked with McCready on the only Mad Season album in 1999). And finally, Bassist Jeff Amend, like Mike and Stone has worked on a few side projects in the four year gap; Tres Mts. in 2011 and RNDM in 2012. This isn’t a lack of interest on guys part in Pearl Jam, it’s their love of music and playing music. ‘Lightning Bolt’ is the bands 10th studio album in a career that spans well over two decades. There has always been other bands in one form or another, even before Pearl Jam was formed (Mother Love Bone / Green River / Soundgarden). This album is by no means the last we hear from the five core members separately or as Pearl Jam.
The final quarter of the album starts with one of the tracks from Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele songs called ‘Sleeping By Myself’. The tune although slightly upbeat, is sombre, and very different to the tone set on the album so far. The lyrics are a stark contrast to ‘Lightning Bolt’, in that it’s about breaking up. like the Ukulele version, sweet and simple and straight to the point. It holds a strong contrast to the whole album in its tone and meaning and from Vedder’s point of speech; there’s no soap box for a rant or lover to sing to, just, as the song suggests, loneliness.
‘Yellow Moon’ is the penultimate track on the album. This is apparently “Prog” track has had some negative feedback, and although I agree with some who say it’s one of the weaker tracks, I think it sets the mood for the album ender ‘Future Days’. For me, this is where the maturity of the band really shines. They aren’t the twenty something’s they were in 1992. This song to me is about hope for love and happiness in later life, building a relationship and trusting your “other half”. Quite a beautiful song, the hope before the dark that is Sirens. Ann Marie Simpsons Violin in the back ground is enough to bring a tear filled smile to your face.
As well as Ann Marie Kenneth “BOOM” Gaspar makes an appearance as well as producer Brendan O’Brien.