Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt Album Review

Lightningbolt 608x608

rating: 3.5

Pearl Jam has often been described as 'the band that survived Grunge'. Their seminal work, 1991's 'Ten', rocketed them to overnight superstardom and the forefront of the American music scene alongside fellow Seattle bands Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. Whether or not Pearl Jam actually belonged to the Grunge genre is still a hotly debated topic. The heavily distorted, downtuned guitars and angsty critical lyricism of their peers was almost totally absent from a lot of Pearl Jam's recordings. They favoured delicate sounds, anthemic vocal lines and storytelling. Their sound transcended the typical Grunge noise. They seemed to be a standalone act. Something completely original, but a victim of the time's need to label everything. As had become a regular occurrence with a lot of the Grunge movement, the racking pressure of overnight success began to take its toll on the band. A particularly rough period was to follow, in which Pearl Jam would boycott TicketMaster and attempt to break away from the labels that had been imposed on them. All the while the band seemed to be going from strength to strength, faring well with the release of the record breaking 'Vs.' in 1993, although it wasn't until Grunge broke and tapered off that Pearl Jam would have a chance to prove themselves to a wider audience. 2013's 'Lightning Bolt' is a hark back to those times in an age where their peers are reforming and hitting the road to bring grunge to an entirely new generation. The raw energy, Vedder's soaring vocals and McCready & Gossard's iconic guitar work are all back, and back in spades. The album kicks off with 'Getaway' where it hits like an old friend. A familiar sound that's been missing for some time and had only been hinted at on 2009's 'Backspacer'. It struts, building slowly to a gallop, Vedder sounds fresh, rejuvenated. McCready hits with a flowing solo that cements the sound, before bursting into the album's lead single; 'Mind Your Manners', A fusion of chaotic Dead Kennedys' guitar and vocals from Vedder that we haven't heard since 'Do The Evolution'. It screams of 1998's 'Yield'; a definite throwback. The pace continues into 'My Father's Son' and we're finally brought back to Vedder's storytelling lyricism of old. It's fast, unstable and ready to explode at any given moment, it takes from the extensive back catalogue and grows into a matured sound, before abruptly coming to a stop. It's here where the first stumbling block of the album occurs. 'Sirens' seems out of place; a bit of a spanner in the works. All the energy that built up over the first three tracks has suddenly been shelved. The track is strong and the change in tempo keeps you on your toes, but all in all it does feel misplaced. The title track, 'Lightning Bolt' follows. Starting slowly, It builds to a punchy tempo, bringing the pace right back. Its anthemic, a definite set opener, big guitars and Vedder's raw vocal power bring it to an exciting close. 'Infallible' is a little reminiscent of the past, but funky and quite offbeat. It feels experimental; although all the core Pearl Jam elements are there, they are being used in a different manner, resulting in a track that sounds a little shoegaze. it marks a definite turning point in the album. We then move through 'Pendulum', a brooding, remorseful track, that is somewhat throwaway and forgettable. However, it does have its moments, particularly from the two minute mark onward. 'Swallowed Whole' and 'Let The Records Play'; bring a little tempo back, although the timbre is still very much acoustic driven. Both pass by in a similar, predictable manner, although the latter is the more energetic of the two with some solo work that recalls 'Even Flow'. It would have been nice to have had a more definite ending, as the fade out, by this point, has become a little too common on this album. 'Sleeping By Myself' marks the descent into the final stages of Lightning Bolt. The raw energy of the first half has burned out and from the ashes comes this quietly driven acoustic ballad. The track showcases Vedder's versatility as a vocalist, as if there was ever any doubt. 'Yellow Moon' follows with a sound that recalls memories of 'Vs.', particularly 'Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town'. It comes to a grand finish, setting the stage for the powerful and aptly named closer 'Future Days'. The track is hopeful but subtle, starting with a bare piano, like some sort of requiem. It harks back to the Pearl Jam of old, but the Vedder on display here is far from the twenty something that would throw himself from the light fixtures to thousands of adoring fans. He is older, wiser. the whole band is. Lightning Bolt proves this. The music is weary and battle worn, but still powerful and inventive. While it isn't perfect; suffering from poor track positioning and a couple of songs that feel a little like filler, Lightning Bolt is still one of Pearl Jam's strongest releases. Certainly the strongest of the last decade. Vedder can still lyrically spin stories that best even the songwriting skills of Craig Finn of The Hold Steady. Gossard, McCready and Ament are still capable of writing refreshing and original music. Most importantly the band sounds young, full of energy and ready to explore new ground. If Lightning Bolt does anything for Pearl Jam, it proves that there's fuel in the tank yet.
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Newcastle based filmmaker with a taste for world cinema, loud music, and good beer. Green Bay Packers fan.