Music Review: Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

May 10, 2014



The fact that it feels like a lot longer than just four years since Pearl Jam released their previous album, Backspacer, speaks to the success of their campaign to remain the anti-heroes in their own legend, hugely influential and successful, but unwilling to play the facile, meaningless celebrity game.

The fact that it’s the band’s most exciting album in much longer than that suggests that they’re now comfortable – it didn’t always seem to be the case – with making grittily accessible music that’ll do their sales no harm. The formula that made them superstars in the first place included a sometimes brutal lyrical honesty, but it added to that rhythms and melodies compelling enough to get stadia heaving in breathless elation.

That combination returns as Eddie Vedder considers mortality and getting on in life (the singer is now in his fifties) and Matt Cameron, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and Jeff Ament play with the enthusiasm of a garage band half their age – though their experience is evident in the tight, punchy arrangements.

Brendan O’Brien – who’s helmed a number of successful Pearl Jam projects – returns as producer, and there are few in his field as adept at allowing the space between the notes to speak as loudly as the music itself. Paradoxically, perhaps, that makes this an album you will to listen to at high volume – the quick, punky numbers (Mind Your Manners) as well as the more reflective material (Pendulum) and the poppy single material (Swallowed Whole), which a slew of cover artists will try to get right – without managing.

That last point is one of the wonderful, mystical things about the music Pearl Jam make. Most of it doesn’t sound terribly complicated, but the chops and chemistry that make it fly are not available to everyone. It could be said, then, that listener frustration occasionally becomes a marketing tool as fans refer time and time again to try and nail down the nub of each tunes appeal.

Do that if you like – it’s a worthwhile way to spend an hour. Or just sit back and enjoy the renaissance of an important, brilliant band who sound like they’re having fun again, 10 albums and 24 years down the line.

  • Getaway                                                             8.00
  • Mind Your Manners                                           7.25
  • My Father’s Son                                                 7.50
  • Sirens                                                                 8.00
  • Lightning Bolt                                                     7.75
  • Infallible                                                              7.00
  • Pendulum                                                           6.50
  • Swallowed Whole                                               7.75
  • Let The Records Play                                          7.25
  • Sleeping By Myself                                             7.75
  • Yellow Moon                                                      6.50
  • Future Days                                                        7.50

Rating: 7.396