Still going strong
Oct 11 2013
And then there is Pearl Jam who are enjoying their third decade together with a renewed commitment that isn’t just invigorating, but remarkably free of nostalgia.
Lightning Bolt, the Seattle five-piece’s 10th studio album, doesn’t just articulate the band’s sound, it subtly furthers it.
Pearl Jam’s first project in five years continues to eschew their art-rock flirtations of the 90’s as they persevere towards a more classic rock version of themselves. They’re still more or less interested in sticking to a back-to-basics sound with only the occasional gesture towards experimentation or expanding their sound. The good news is that it works better than it did with their last two albums. Lightning Bolt is definitely some of their best material in the past ten years. One pleasant surprise is that it’s dustier than Backspacer, not to the beleaguered levels of Riot Act, but with music that feels a bit more lived in. Where Backspacer was an exceedingly consistent experience of mid-level Pearl Jam material, Lightning Bolt whiplashes you between its highs and lows.
The album starts off strong, Getaway ranking amongst their very best openers and easily amongst the best latter-day Pearl Jam songs. Like the other best moments on the record, it brings out the impulses of post-Riot Act Pearl Jam perfectly. Vedder is singing clearer and more melodically, which allows the band to rock when they want, but to do it in a catchy way. Ultimately, this works to their benefit, a nuanced take that suggests their maturity more so than any attempt to still thrash around.
On Sirens vocalist Eddie Vedder makes his accommodation with his mortality, passing on forthright apologies and pledges. Like much of the album, his atonement is transported by the band’s reflective melodies. With rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard as the lynchpin, Getaway and Mind Your Manners offer a stinging introduction to an album that takes audiences from psychedelic-flecked grind of Infallible to the spectral unease of Pendulum. Lead guitarist Mike McCready brings along his majestic best to most tracks that take the songs a notch higher than usual.
The best moment of the troubled final act of Lightning Bolt is Yellow Moon, a gorgeous mash-up of Vedder’s Into the Wild work and a classic mid-tempo Pearl Jam song. On their earlier albums, Vedder’s psychological turmoil had a tortured quality that made for cathartic deliverance on the likes of Rearviewmirror, but his outlook has widened and his self-doubt is no longer exorcised without examination. The singer has a measure of the contemplative grace, although there’s less spiritual wonder and more binding guitar riffs. “I found my place and it’s alright,” Vedder declares on Getaway, “I got my own way to believe.” Vedder has never been more sure of what he is doing.
Both Backspacer and Lightning Bolt suggest that the band is in the midst of a previously unseen version of the band, a happy Pearl Jam. Not only on a personal life level, but also as a band — they’re new music seems like they are functioning better than ever, more comfortable with how they work and with each other. Fans just couldn’t ask for any thing more.