Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt

Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt cover
Pearl Jam
Lightning Bolt
Monkeywrench Records/Republic Records
Being a proud member of Generation X and a long time die-hard fan of Pearl Jam I’ve always (and always will) hold a special part of my heart for them. There’s no doubt that they are a historic band and that music today wouldn’t have been the same without them. Having said that, it’s my opinion that they haven’t recorded a good album after the 90’s. Nevertheless, I can honestly say that I successfully suppressed my expectations before beginning listening to “Lightning Bolt” and heard it with an open mind. After all, it’s a different thing to listen to stuff for your own fun, and it’s a whole other story to scrutinize a record in order to produce a well-rounded review. Anyway, here it goes.
The tenth album by Pearl Jam finds the band working with long time friend Brendan OBrien in the role of the producer. That doesn’t mean of course that the sound of “Lightning Bolt” resembles that of “Vs”, “Vitalogy”, “No Code” or “Yield” (actually, let’s be honest, none of those records had anything to do with the other in the sound part). What OBrien’s name at the back cover means is that these old dogs were once again in the studio with someone they knew well and trusted.
But let’s focus on the songs. Well, they’re not all that bad. As it happens with most great artists, no one expects them to produce their best work when they’ve been in the business for 20 years. Pearl Jam have proven their worth time and time again (and had their fair share of failures as well). I can’t help wondering, therefore, why they keep making new records. They could easily just be a touring band and everyone would still go to their gigs to hear all those amazing songs they’ve written throughout their career. I can only guess that it can’t be easy to quit when you’ve spend most of your life creating music.
One thing that I missed in the post 2000 Pearl Jam records was the fact that they seem to lack attitude and guts. “Binaural”, “Riot Act”, “Pearl Jam” and “Backspacer” were all decent albums, but flat to my ears. The same can’t be said for “Lightning Bolt”. I am happy to say that in this album I distinctly hear a bunch of great musicians who put a big deal of their hearts and souls in their music. That is more evident in the more ballad-like tracks like: “Sirens”, “Infallible” and, my personal favorite, “Pendulum” (which sounds almost like a collaboration of Pearl jam with Queens of the Stone Age). Hearing those songs brought to mind something I once heard about Frank Sinatra having advised Elvis to move away from hard rock‘n’roll tracks as he would get older. The idea behind this was that, first of all, he wouldn’t be able to shout, dance and generally put on the same show as the years would go by, but most importantly, his fans would get older along with him and therefore they would enjoy a less aggressive type of tunes.
As for the faster and more rock oriented powerful tracks in “Lightning Bolt” such as: “My Father’s Son”, “Lightning Bolt” and “Let the Records Play”, they may not be as “rocking” as their early stuff but that’s to be expected. After all, these guys are almost 40. At least they don’t sound like a bunch of old geezers who are failing to sound tough and that’s something. Unfortunately, there are a few tracks there that mostly lean to the mediocre side of the scale and are featured on the album solely for the purpose of raising the track-count to 12. I don’t wish to disclose which these songs are but I guess you can figure it out if you truly want to (they are all at the end of the record).
I saved the first single and (arguably the biggest hit) of the album for last; “Mind Your Manners” an old -school punk-rock track through Pearl Jam’s scope. It’s not the first time that they have sinked their teeth in that sort of song (think of “Spin The Black Circle” and “Luckin” to mention two), however in “Mind Your Manners” it’s pretty clear that they may be getting a litte too old for such endeavors.
Closing, I think that when you are dealing with the 10th album of such a big name in music you have to ask this very important question: Does this release harm their legacy or not? To be perfectly honest I don’t know yet. In my opinion, there have been much worse albums by Pearl Jam which blackened their name much more than “Lightning Bolt”. I mean I don’t even know if I ever heard “Pearl Jam” and “Backspacer” to their entirety. “Lightning Bolt” is not horrible but it’s not great either. It’s clearly a fruit of love made by six (including Brendan OBrien) close friends who contributed a lot to music back in the 90’s, and who are now getting older. This is the best way that I can describe it right now.