Pearl Jam- Lightning Bolt
8.1 / 10
Pearl Jam is certainly an anomaly in the jungle of the music industry. They emerged as the forerunners in a movement where most seemingly weren’t destined for old bones and yet Pearl Jam has now endured for over 20 years. They’ve followed their own muse and called their own shots and still maintain a massive commercial appeal. They were initially lumped in with the genre of “grunge” mainly for their ethos, apparel, and geographic location. But while messianic figures of the trade like Kurt Cobain practiced what they preached in a somewhat self-sabotaging even self-eviscerating fashion, Pearl Jam were and still are at their core firmly entrenched in the heart of Classic Rock tradition. Their canon has emulated numerous Rock & Roll luminaries such as R.E.M., The Who, Bruce Springsteen, MC5, Led Zeppelin, and Neil Young (To whom this endeavor is dedicated to in the liner notes affectionately, “Dedicated to Uncle Neil.”) to name a few. It should come as no revelation then that sequenced with its various peaks and valleys, Pearl Jam’s 10th studio album Lightning Bolt unfurls like a Classic Rock record.
Lightning Bolt explodes like a powder-keg with the one-two punch opening of “Getaway” and “Mind Your Manners” as the former strides in with a bold and brash Stones-y swagger and front man Eddie Vedder spits fire from his pulpit, “Everyone’s a critic looking back up the river/ Every boat is leaking in this town/ Everybody’s thinking that they’ll all be delivered/ Sitting in a box like lost and found.” The latter is leaner with buzz saw urgency paying homage to the visceral D.I.Y. spirit of the early Punk pioneers as guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard play like dogs off a leash. The wormhole of “My Father’s Son” battles with demons (Now father you’re dead and gone/ And I’m finally free to be me/ Thanks for all your fucked-up gifts/ For which I got no sympathy) before shifting to the break-of-dawn ballad “Sirens” acting as a soothing glow coating and calming the agitation and fury that had erupted from the first three rockers. The title track is as monumental and continental-shifting as any piece of music they’ve put on record. The unbounded frontier sonics and “Given to Fly” fervor is galvanizing with Vedder sermonizing on the shoreline, “She comes on like stone/ But you don’t know where from she was thrown/ Like a burning meteor from miles high.” “Infallible” is a jarring cold sweat and “Pendulum” sounds like a drowning man’s final meditation, time passes and the sinking continues until life and light are barely a flicker. “Swallowed Whole” is a global trek with no limits or boundaries and “Let The Records Play” is a gritty guitar romp. An unabashed celebration exploring the medicinal and divine power of Rock & Roll, “When kingdom comes/ He puts his records on/ And with his blistered thumb hits play.” “Sleeping By Myself” is reworked from Vedder’s 2011 album Ukulele Songs augmented by a full band arrangement while Vedder’s ukulele still adds an aesthetic charm. “Future Days” closes as a sterling hymn as haunting as it is alluring. It’s a survivor’s psalm, free of guilt with its luminous prophecy faithfully believing in the journey ahead. This may be the most fragile Pearl Jam has ever sounded but sincerity prevails and it’s the perfect curtain call for a band coming to terms with its legacy as well as gauging its destiny.
Lightning Bolt finds Pearl Jam perhaps surprisingly sailing gracefully into middle-age embracing a roll as elderly statesmen in an increasingly uncertain industry, a conscience and moral compass of sorts. They’ve fallen in and out of favor with certain groups of fans and critics alike but the band continues to soldier on, indifferent of how they’re perceived in certain circles and confident in their virtues. This is a fusion of their raging youthful past with a genuine tenderness and wink of the eye that could only come from decades of experience and craftsmanship. Sure it may be considered “Dad Rock” by some, but what a righteous and mature statement this record is.