Pros: Quite a few good to great songs.
Cons: A couple less distinctive ones.
So on October 15th 2013 Pearl Jam released their 10th studio album. Having taken a few months to digest it all, I realize my initial instincts were correct: Lightning Bolt is mid-level Pearl Jam.
It’s not on the same level as VS or Vitalogy or Yield or even the underrated No Code or the self-titled 2006 album. It’s about on a par with their previous album Backspacer and ahead of Binaural and Riot Act, which were Pearl Jam’s two weakest albums (not bad though. Pearl Jam has yet to make a bad album).
The album shows Pearl Jam maturing gracefully. There’s not an anthem of youth rebellion on here like “Leash” from 1993’s VS. But they’re not turning adult contemporary either. They still know how to rock out and prove that on “Mind Your Manners”. Musically it recalls 1994’s love of vinyl ode “Spin The Black Circle” yet this is an angry attack on religious fundamentalism and hypocrisy. It took a while to grow on me. But now it’s safe to say that this song rocks.
Likewise I wasn’t sure at first what to make of second single “Sirens”. After listening a few times I’d say it definitely ranks on a list of best Pearl Jam ballads. A reflection on mortality and a belief in the power of love and hope.
“My Father’s Son” recalls classic Pearl Jam soundwise and lyrically it’s a depiction of a young man caught in a cycle of violence.
“Infallible” is another tense number that rants against the cliches many people seem to look to to get by.
The title track recalls Bruce Springsteen in spots and is a classic Pearl Jam rocker. Opening song “Getaway” Meanwhile, is not a remake of the Earth Wind And Fire song of the same name. It’s another rocker with lyrics along the lines of that infamous Dylan admonition “Don’t follow leaders/Watch the parking meters”.
“Let The Records Play” has a bluesy groove and evokes the aforementioned “Black Circle” lyrically as an ode to the healing power of rock and roll.
“Yellow Moon” is a good song lyrically although it sounds like one that would be better if it were more acoustic. I like it still though.
“Sleeping By Myself” is one of the more undistinguished ones on Lightning Bolt.
“Future Days” is another acoustic number and it’s a great one to end the album with. Like “Sirens” it’s a call for faith and optimism in a an uncertain era.
In fact, listening to this album in its entirety, reveals that it’s a sort of concept album about keeping your belief in an era of charlatans, phony religious leaders and politicians.
Pearl Jam has offered up another good to great one here with Lightning Bolt. They may not be the biggest band in America as they were between 1992 and 1997. But they’ve managed to continue on their own terms, managed to outlast many of their contemporaries and rip-offs and managed to age more gracefully. Lightning Bolt is definitely worth acquiring be it on CD or iTunes. But support Pearl Jam so they can continue to make fantastic music in this era of Bieber.