Pearl Jam’s latest studio album, ‘Lightning Bolt’ is almost upon us. With their previous album, ‘Backspacer’, having been released four years ago, the longest gap between albums in their 23 year history, Pearl Jam are now ready to make a new statement. I have been listening to this album several times over the past couple of days and these are my thoughts on their tenth studio album.
The album itself is a mix and mishmash of several different styles of music, some familiar, and some maybe a little unfamiliar elements. Essentially though it is an album that still rocks like we know Pearl Jam can.
Pearl Jam opens things up with a stomper of a rocker ‘Getaway’, complete with slight punk elements and a nice groove and rhythm throughout. First single that was released ‘Mind Your Manners’ continues with the faster tempo and punk feel. This to me had the classic Pearl Jam sound that would not look out of place on third studio album ‘Vitalogy’, with a political/religious theme going on. Something that Pearl Jam covers very well.
In fact the faster tracks mainly feature in the first half of the album. ‘My Fathers Son’ has great deep ballsy bass tones from Jeff Ament, with again great rhythms and this is a head shaker or foot stomper that does somewhat sounds to me that you could place it somewhere between the ‘Riot Act’ and self-titled ‘Pearl Jam’ (Avocado) albums. Second single, ‘Sirens’, follows suit, and what can I say? I heard this and saw the video a few weeks ago. At first I was unsure about this one. It is a grower though, and to me this is one of Pearl Jam’s and Eddie Vedder’s finest pieces of work for a very long time. It is a ballad, with subtle keys all the way through it. The melodies are simple, huge and catchy. The lyric writing is some of the best Vedder has ever produced in my opinion, and has you thinking and valuing the life you live. The theme being make the most of your own life, also with the people you love and others because you never know when the moment can change in an instant. It portrays the fragility of life, full of emotion, and is such a beautiful song. This is easily one of my favourite tracks on this album.
Title track of the album ‘Lightning Bolt’ is also a corker of a rocker, full of great riffs and grooves from the guitars. This seems to be also a very upbeat song about relationships. There is a lot of great positivity on Pearl Jam’s latest offering and a sense of fun. The first five songs are not too surprising or far off the Pearl Jam beat I have known over the years, but then things change and we are treated to some different styles not too accustomed to previous releases. ‘Infallible’ is one such a song. This is one where the groove is constant and infectious throughout, with strong support from Boom Gaspar on the Organ here. Where the song ‘Parachutes’ had that strange effect on me from Pearl Jam’s 2006 self titled Album ‘Pearl Jam’, this song has that similar kind of effect on me here. It sounds so out of place but you can’t help enjoying this one with its dark broodiness and Beatlesque/Adam’s Family kind of atmosphere with its sounds.
Things are very different with the sounds in the second half of the album and Pearl Jam have never sounded as relaxed as they do in ‘Pendulum’. This feels more progressive, with a dark ambience in mood and sound, with a certain nod to artists such as The Doors and Pink Floyd! The sound has that late sixties/early seventies hippy vibe. Eddie Vedder chants in his low baritone and this reinforces the spaced out times that remind me of the old college days! This is another one I really like on this album. ‘Swallowed Whole’ brings us back to the fun Pearl Jam again. Quite simply Melodic Rock at its best. This is a feel good foot tapper of a song that is simple, yet catchy with its hooks and melodies. ‘Let The Records Play’ sounds like classic Rock and Roll of the seventies. The groove is very infectious again and if you ask me, sounds vaguely like the riff from Sabbath’s ‘Fairies Wear Boots’. Nonetheless this is a great track which I’m sure would have the audience shaking their asses when played live.
The last quarter of the album has a completely different complexion. Here the sound changes again, and there is more of a folk vibe if anything. It springs to mind some of the Eddie Vedder solo material he did with film soundtracks such as ‘Into The Wild’. ‘Sleeping By Myself has a folk/country rock vibe and is lower key than previous tracks on the album. For me this is the weakest track on the album. ‘Yellow Moon’ is a ballad with folk elements, and to me feels kind of Celtic in places. The organ sounds from Boom Gaspar again feature through it and provides some great melodies.
Pearl Jam finish with a great folk ballad. Simple piano and acoustic guitar feature mainly, with the deep tones of Ed Vedder’s voice. Organ and violin also come into the fray. It is a subdued and quiet way to end an album. Nonetheless, I have a huge open mind and respect for lots of different music styles, and to this reviewer, I do love the way this track closes out the album.
In summary, if you were looking for something from Pearl Jam that sounded familiar or a comparison to some of the classic Pearl Jam from many years ago, you won’t get a lot of this on this album. It may not be as heavy and rock out as much as their earlier releases. What you will get however is a very pleasurable surprise and listening experience. You will get a lot of new sounds and ideas coming from the band and if you are open minded to music, and on an artist’s expressions, growth and progression you will be richly rewarded. Long gone are the grunge days from ‘Ten’, Pearl Jam are making statements in a different way, and to this reviewer I love what they are doing. There are mainly rock elements, punk is thrown in here and there, classic rock, rock and roll, also some progressive sounds and a good hint of folk. This album is a grower, and you won’t appreciate how great this really is in just one, two or a few listens. It does take several listens to get used to the style, direction and flow of the album. To me this is up there with their best albums. It doesn’t quite knock ‘Ten’ off my top spot, but this is perhaps 2nd or 3rd place in my opinion. A top quality production and release.
I only hope that at some point in the near future Pearl Jam will announce a full UK tour so I can witness this album being performed live!
‘Lightning Bolt’ is released on October 14th.