Lots of people on Twitter last night were asking for my views on this album, so I thought I’d scribble a quick review for all interested parties…
I fell in love with Pearl Jam twenty-two years ago with the release of the now classic Ten album. I was a messed-up fifteen year old back then, and it was probably inevitable, I guess! Since then, they’ve released a series of good and occasionally brilliant albums and I have continued to be a fan – but none of their last few albums have really captured and held my interest. Until this one.
The excellent punky lead-off single ‘Mind Your Manners’ (video below) had already piqued my curiosity in a big way, making me more excited about a new Pearl Jam album than I had been since sometime in the 1990s. And they didn’t let me down – even on the strength of a few early listens, it’s already obvious that Lightning Bolt is easily one of the best albums they have released in years.
There are some great songs here; instantly recognisable as Pearl Jam, but with the driving melodic immediacy and rewarding musical depth that has – for me – been missing in a lot of their more recent stuff prior to this album. Pounding opener ‘Getaway’ pivots on a swaggering riff and a trademark belting Eddie Vedder vocal. ‘Swallowed Whole’ effectively channels The Who and what sounds to me like a hint of early/mid-period R.E.M. to create a steadily building slice of classic rock.
The bluesy stomp of ‘Let The Records Play’ allows Mike McCready to let rip (in fact, his solos are uniformly excellent on this album) and gives Stone Gossard and Vedder another chance to build a song around a vinyl-related theme (see also ‘Spin The Black Circle’ from 1994’s Vitalogy). ‘Infallible’ builds on a slightly odd, stuttering riff that wedges itself into your internal jukebox – and a pounding, pin-point accurate rhythm section that demonstrates just how important bassist Jeff Ament and legendary drummer Matt Cameron are to Pearl Jam’s sound.
The mournful ‘Pendulum’ is also anchored by Ament’s distinctive bass runs (reminiscent at times on this track of Peter Hook, strangely enough – listen closely), and his low-end rumble holds the edgy, angry ‘My Father’s Son’ together. Conversely, ‘Yellow Moon’ is melancholy and gentle, infused with that 70s rock vibe and an almost Neil Young kind of feel in places (unsurprisingly!). However, my personal favourite song on the album is the twitchy, driving title track, which builds and builds to epic effect – as you can see in the video below, which is taken from a recent live performance:
Ultimately, Lightning Bolt is the work of a band who are utterly comfortable with who they are and where they’re going – but it is by no means complacent. This is the sound of a band who have been playing together for the best part of three decades and who can read each other perfectly; the effortlessly uncoiling sound of a band who have a deep and abiding musical connection but who are still reaching for something new. Ten albums down the line, this is Pearl Jam still playing by their own rules – as ever. And it sounds like they’re enjoying themselves in the process, which can only be a good thing.