Album review: Lightning Bolt

lightningbolt

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief  Ω

I’ve chosen to write this review of Pearl Jam’s newest album (released Oct. 14) in an unconventional way, especially for a newspaper:

Because I’m openly a huge fan of the band and have been since their first album, Ten, was released in 1991, I will write this review as I listen to the album for the first time, and try not to gush over what is sure to be yet another exceptional effort by my favourite band of all time. I will give my impressions track by track before they have time to set in or I have time to revisit them, in an attempt to be as transparent (if not unbiased) as possible.

“Getaway”

This is like nothing Pearl Jam has ever done before. As has been the tendency with the band ever since their inception, they have continued their system of always introducing the new sound as soon as the album starts. None of this “slowly reveal what we’re doing now,” bullshit.

“Mind Your Manners”

“Spin the Black Circle” revisited. Of all the things they could revisit from their past, “Spin the Black Circle” should be way down the list. While the tonal change to a more melodic bridge is nice, and it’s good to see them keeping one foot in the past and holding on to part of their heavier roots. This feels a bit more punk than I want Pearl Jam to be.

“My Father’s Son”

Calling back to the days of Yield and No Code (though a bit darker in tone than either and a bit more “metal” than both). Not too much else to say about this one. Good work.

“Sirens”

Eddie’s first chance to use his voice as the dominant instrument in a song — as he’s done with the band’s ballads since for the past 20-plus years — has undertones of country music (maybe it’s the raw acoustic strings, and is that a periodic slide-guitar?) but where the hell did this David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd, if you were unaware) solo come from out of McCready? Love it.

“Lightning Bolt”

This is the first song on the album that I desperately want to hear them play in a stadium.  Plenty of breaks that leave you almost hearing McCready and Gossard ripping into improvised solos and Eddie finally busts out in full in regards to having his energy manifest into powerful vocal brilliance.

“Infallible”

Sounds like the album is closing already. I want to move this song to the end of the album, and will do so in my iTunes playlist. It’s excellent, but it doesn’t belong here.

“Pendulum”

Another callback — this time to the Binaural and Riot Act days. Dark and moody, as though they’re calling on The Cure to add a little something in terms of the energy they’re putting across to their listeners (or rather listener, as this song feels like you should probably just be in a corner with headphones being melancholy and introverted).

“Swallowed Whole”

This sounds like the band invited Michael Stipe into the studio and just let him direct instead of sing. An interesting blend of Pearl Jam and R.E.M. that I just can’t shake — not that I think that’s a bad thing. I miss R.E.M. a little.

“Let The Records Play”

This feels like it’s coming out of an old-school jukebox in a highway-side roadhouse. I don’t want my Pearl Jam to sound like this. I see what they’re doing by adding a 50s-60s blues riff and finger snaps in an homage to where rock ‘n’ roll came from, but let’s get back to what you do best, shall we boys?

“Sleeping By Myself”

Not your classic break-up song, but there’s no mistaking it. Sadness abounds, and you can almost see teenaged boys everywhere playing it over and over after their high school girlfriends cheat them on. Still, there’s a feeling of hopefulness somewhere underneath, though definitely not lyrically.

“Yellow Moon”

There’s the classic Pearl Jam semi-ballad you just knew was coming. “Nothing as it Seems” meets “Off He Goes” meets “Oceans” meets “Indifference” meets “Thumbing My Way.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let’s just say this one feels like it could have been on the Into The Wild soundtrack.

“Future Days”

This is maybe the best song Pearl Jam has ever written, at least as far as lyric-driven ballads are concerned.

A love song for the ages. Brilliant poetry brilliantly put to music.

Maybe I won’t put “Infallible” at the end. This is the perfect way to end an album.

Overall, I’d say — upon first listen — that this isn’t really a cohesive end-to-end listen like some of their previous albums. They’re certainly experimenting a bit and paying homage to some other groups and styles. I’m not saying they are doing this altogether unsuccessfully, I just feel there might not be enough “typical” Pearl Jam on this album for casual fans.

Then again, ask me again in a week when I’ve had another dozen or so runs through it. I’ll admit to not falling in love with Binaural or Riot Act my first time through those, either, so I have a feeling even the parts of Lightning Bolt I thought weren’t top-shelf will grow on me.

 

Check out the official music video for “Sirens” below: