GENRES: Rock & Roll, Grunge, Classic Rock, Alternative Rock, Classic Alt. Rock
TOP TRACKS: Getaway, Mind Your Manners, Sirens, Lightning Bolt, Infallible, Sleeping By Myself
Pearl Jam could possibly be one of the most iconic rock bands of all time. The 90's grunge superstars have rolled through the past two decades with their incredible consistency as a band. Even though classic releases like Ten and Vitalogy, which forged the band's reputation as one of the most popular grunge acts, are far behind Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder and company have been one of the more relevant rock bands to come the early 90's grunge scene. Just ask bands like Soundgarden or Mudhoney who would kill for the publicity they received during the grunge period in its hay-day. While people usually accredit Nirvana for being the first grunge act, Pearl Jam made grunge cool in the United States of America. Although they didn't really flip the script of music like Nirvana, their fanbase grew SO large over time and now they are one of the biggest bands in the whole world.
Lightning Bolt is Pearl Jam's 10th studio album, and the anticipation for this project is as high as any Pearl Jam record. Lately before each PJ album, Eddie Vedder makes false promises to promote the record and we're all left disappointed. However, not so much on this new one. For the most part, everything is very simple, very straightforward and completely back to the basics. It's refreshing to see a band with over 2 decades of experience still doing things the old fashion way. For many reasons, this Pearl Jam album might be one the best they have released recently. I can tell you for sure that it's better than Backspacer but I'm sure we all anticipated that anyhow.
Coming into the record we already knew that Pearl Jam are versatile musicians. Eddie Vedder has one of the most amazing voices in the history of rock music. I truly believe he is one of the best frontmen to ever grace the industry. He can take it loud and angsty but at the same time his voice as a really beautiful tonal quality that works so well with what have become the signature Pearl Jam ballads. On this record, it's a lot more of that variety that we have always come to know and love. The two singles, "Mind Your Manners" and "Sirens" could not be more polar opposite of each other. "Mind Your Manners" is a gritty punk rock-esque song with simple chords, uptempo choruses and verses with lots of yelling from Eddie Vedder. "Sirens" is the long, drawn out ballad of the record. It's actually very well written, performed and layered in terms of production. The melody is excellent and the song form leaves lots of room for momentum with each listen.
Lightning Bolt essentially delivers these two formulas. There are the rock tracks and there are the slower ballads. Pearl Jam often do an excellent job executing both of these styles so its doesn't bother me too much, however I felt that maybe this album was a little too straightforward for a band that's 20 years along. Then again, we can't all expect another Ten with groundbreaking music and amazingly timeless singles. So I guess that it is unfair of me to ask too much of Pearl Jam.
I really enjoyed the rock songs on this album. Each one. They really never got old. Getaway really set the tone for the album and amped me up, allowing me to finally realize "holy fuck! This is actually a new Pearl Jam record!", while songs like "Lightning Bolt" and "My Father's Son" gave this album some high energy vibes. Unfortunately, these songs are really the only main instances of straight up "rock" music on the record and so fans might be disappointed. Personally, I liked the change in direction. The more delicate and ballad-like pieces showed how diverse Pearl Jam is as a band which impressed me and reminded me of what I already knew. "Infallible" is pretty poppy and melodically driven but it still sounds really emotional and genuine because Eddie Vedder is there to validate the song with his signature vocals. Another one of my surprising favorites was "Sleeping By Myself" which was totally out of Pearl Jam's comfort song. With the acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter style rhythmic pattern and the overall happy mood, I could never imagine the same flannel wearing, headbanging, guitar smashing rockers of the nineties doing a song like this, which might be the reason why I enjoy it so much. Seriously, Pearl Jam with a ukelele is interesting no matter which way you slice it.
There were a few weaker tracks on the record like "Yellow Moon" and "Future Days" which also happen to be the final two on the album listing. This is really unfortunate because as solid as this Pearl Jam album is, it really would have benefited from a stronger ending to give it a more cohesive overall sound. I'll be quite honest in saying that these two tracks did influence my overall opinion of the album which is unfortunate considering how good of an effort it is on the part of the band.
But overall, besides those few necessary bitchy complaints, I really liked the new Pearl Jam album. It's one of the better rock albums to be released this year. Pearl Jam is nothing if not reliable. You can almost always count on them for a good, no bullshit, straight-shooting, rock album and that's essentially what you have here with Lightning Bolt. Rock jams and power ballads altogether, this is a good listen. I could see myself coming back to this album as it is the best Pearl Jam release in almost a decade.