Recorded over just two sessions, Pearl Jam’s 10th studio album ‘Lightning Bolt’ is unlikely to win over many new fans, but at least it’ll satisfy their existing army of obsessives. Like every post-2000 album released by the grunge pioneers, it emphasises everything about what Pearl Jam have evolved into – a stadium rock band.
As with its 2009 predecessor ‘Backspacer’ and their self-titled eighth studio effort, ‘Lightning Bolt’ opens with a trio of short, aggressive numbers that may only be appreciated upon being witnessed live. ‘Mind Your Manners’, which was released as a single in July, offers a Dead Kennedys inspired thrashy feel to the early stages of the record, while the lyrically sarcastic ‘My Father’s Son’ carries on an early dark element.
‘Sirens’, the album’s second single, has been unfairly labelled a power ballad, with Eddie Vedder’s unmistakable vocals at their peak, while Mike McCready successfully mimics David Gilmour with a high pitched solo. Lyrically as strong as ever, ‘Sirens’ and the title track that follows offer a brief bout of nostalgia before a weak mid sector in ‘Infallible’ and ‘Pendulum’, the former being co-written by bassist Jeff Ament and rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard.
To suggest that these tracks are merely studio experiments would be letting Pearl Jam off the hook – each are dull and skip worthy and, since ‘Pendulum’ was first put together in 2009 but missed the cut for ‘Backspacer’, one can only assume they’ve been thrown into the mix to satisfy a 12-track agreement with record label Monkeywrench.
Typically of the quintet, the best is saved for last as ‘Let The Records Play’ and ‘Sleeping By Myself’ ensue, reaffirming Vedder’s taste for vinyl whilst prolonging his love affair with the ukulele. Perhaps the 12-month gap in between the recording sessions proved significant, as the closing four tracks show the album has long since shrugged off the early hostility.
‘Yellow Moon’ and ‘Future Days’ help create a folky finale – the type of tunes that will likely prompt 30-something concert-goers to produce a cigarette lighter above the head. Like some of their biggest influences – Bruce Springsteen and The Who – Pearl Jam are edging even closer to what they aspired to be.