Album Review: Pearl Jam – ‘Lightning Bolt’

The phrase ‘tenth studio album’ can often be alarming for fans of any genre; many musicians struggle to keep their material fresh and varied enough to maintain a career that can span over ten whole albums. Pearl Jam fans can rejoice however, as Lightning Bolt proves that the Seattle rock group have not by any means lost their touch.

Pearl Jam started their career in ’91, becoming hugely influential in creating the incredible grunge scene of the 90’s, and for the first three tracks of Lightning Bolt, this history is drawn upon to open the album.

‘Getaway’ brings a set of hugely satisfying guitar riffs, that build an energy that lifts up to the chorus and explodes into the second track of the album. ‘Mind Your Manners’, the second single to be released, recreates some of the that post-punk grunge sound Pearl Jam are famous for, which, when closely followed by ‘My Father’s Son’ with its punchy and energetic bass line, creates a fantastic opening for Lightning Bolt . Although loud and dramatic, the opening three tracks still display a huge amount of care and attention to detail. Subtle spaces are left in the songs so each of the veteran musicians’ skills can shine through ,whether that be in the form of a guitar lick or drum fill.

This tempo, however, is changed dramatically by ‘Sirens’, a slower placed song that feels genuine and heartfelt, without coming across as too cheesy. Clocking in at just under six minutes, it also allows plenty of time for Eddie Vedder to show the wide range of his iconic vocal sound.

‘Sirens’ is then followed by a selection of somewhat hit and miss tracks. ‘Infallible’ grabs your attention and draws you in with its intriguing bass and guitar sounds in the verses, however then fails to really deliver in the chorus. This is then followed by ‘Pendulum’, that, with its use of keys creates a haunting and foreboding atmosphere, yet never realises its potential to evolve and crescendo into anything explosive or incredible.

It isn’t until ‘Let The Records Play’, with its old school, almost Billy Gibbons-inspired, blues guitar playing that any sense of momentum is built again. Even so, it comes across as more of a toe-tapping groove, particularly when compared to the head-banging assault of the opening trio. This does not, however, prevent it from being one of the stand-out tracks on the album.

However the momentum is enough to see us through to the end of the album. Although ‘Sleeping By Myself’ seems like something that could have been produced by The Eagles rather than iconic 90’s grunge heroes, ‘Yellow Moon’ and the delicate ‘Future Days’ display the diversity of Pearl Jam, bringing the album to a fitting close.

To conclude, Lightning Bolt comes across as a well-thought-out and carefully-crafted album. Although the adrenalin from the opening of the album could arguably have been maintained for longer, and perhaps the weaker tracks in the middle of the album could have been cut entirely, Lightning Bolt manages to prove that Pearl Jam have certainly still got what it takes to make a good album and remain cemented in rock ‘n’ roll history.

James Jordan

…James is listening to Pearl Jam – ‘Getaway’…



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