Pearl Jam “Lightning Bolt”

originally posted on Saturday, 9 November 2013

The early 90’s “grunge” movement was such a unique movement; arguably the last true music scene. It was so unique and important to music that you could almost compare each bands impact with that of bands from the golden age of early 70’s British hard rock. I can make a pretty good argument as to why Alice In Chains are the Black Sabbath of grunge, just like I can make an argument, maybe not as good of one, that Soundgarden are the Deep Purple of grunge. Due to me not wanting this article to be a novel, which it already almost is, I won’t discuss those arguments here (but you’re free to ask me). I will, however, reveal my argument as to why Pearl Jam are the Led Zeppelin of grunge. I only recently came to this realization.

I’ve reflected on growing up and what the name Pearl Jam has meant to rock fans. I’ve had many a long conversation with music fans about Pearl Jam and their impact. I may even go as far as saying that people worship the band. So much so that the name Pearl Jam has become something of a trend; such as people will call Pearl Jam their favourite band, or rather name drop them to sound cool, while only really knowing a few songs. Every bit of that applies to Led Zeppelin, just like how the names Black Sabbath and Deep Purple get forgotten behind because of Led Zeppelin, the names Soundgarden and Alice In Chains often get forgotten behind because of Pearl Jam.

Pearl Jam has made a long and successful career making music their way. All “grunge” bands were very unique in their own way. I always felt that Pearl Jam embodied more of a 70’s hard rock sound than all other popular Seattle bands. The history of the band, if you don’t know it, is a great one. Again, I’m not going to get in to it to avoid making this article too long, but the way the band came to be is among my favourite stories in music.

Pearl Jam recently added to their repertoire with Lightning Bolt; their milestone tenth studio album. Four years after the release of Backspacer, an album I feel put them back on the map. Not that they ever really went anywhere; just that the so called “fans” (who are really just name droppers) don’t really know many, or rather any, songs off of their albums that follow their Vitalogy album, but these people seem to know The Fixer pretty darn well. Anyway, I’m not complaining here, so back to Lightning Bolt.

I feel that Pearl Jam have never truly released the same album twice. I wouldn’t agree with anyone who would think otherwise. Though the bands style has never changed much, their song writing has very much changed. The band continues to do so on Lightning Bolt. While still a prototypical Pearl Jam album, it stands out above the rest of their albums, as well as most albums to have come out all year. The opening track, Getaway is just like those catchy Pearl Jam songs we know and love. Not too loud, but definitely a rocker not to be reckoned with. It has a matured, not so angry or depressed sound to it, singing of more personal matters rather than being mad at the world.

The first single released from the album, Mind Your Manners, is quite the opposite. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was rather surprised when I first heard this song. Not because I didn’t think Pearl Jam had a song this dynamic in their system (they’ve had a number of fast paced rockers just like this in the past,) but rather because they centred so much attention on this track. Where past fast paced songs, such as 1994’s Spin The Black Circle were practically released as filler tracks, never meant to make an impact for the bands career but more or less just a change of pace for the album, Mind Your Manners was put front and centre for the world to hear. With the scary sounding guitar riff, to Eddie Vedder’s rants, to Mike McCready’s string bursting guitar solo, this is a step forward for the band’s confidence.

My Father’s Son keeps the serious sound of Mind Your Manners, but slows things down a tad, dropping the fast punk beat, but maintaining a rather fast pace. This song is then met by the second song released from the album, Sirens; a song that I have openly called the greatest song released all year. A ballad is not new territory for the band, and slow songs are definitely traveled territory for the band as well, but the band hasn’t had a true stand out ballad in their career. This song puts an end to that. The song was written by Mike McCready, as he said, with a Pink Floyd influence to it. I don’t hear the Pink Floyd in the song, but that’s a good thing (not in a “Pink Floyd is bad” way, but in the sense that the band is keeping things original). The highlight of the song is Stone Gossard’s rhythm playing and Eddie Vedder’s singing of the songs chorus. Not to mention another killer guitar solo by Mike.

For the title track, Lightning Bolt, the band chooses to go back to the faster pace of My Father’s Son, maybe even a tad faster, but brings in the upbeat sound that was heard in the albums opening track Getaway. Infallible touches upon more new territory for the band. It features what almost seems to be a hip-hop beat, making a Pearl Jam song like no other. Then there is the spooky piano and percussion driven Pendulum. The usage of piano and percussion isn’t all that makes this a unique number. It is filled with sounds, including acoustic and interestingly toned electric guitars, but at the forefront is Eddie Vedder’s singing, which this song seems to spotlight.

Swallowed Whole reminds me of a “college rock” song. The definition of “college rock” is so vague, but basically all you have to know is that arguably the most popular college rock band is R.E.M., a band that heavily influenced Eddie. The song definitely feels like it could have been written by R.E.M. Let The Records Play features influences that sound like they’d include Elvis Presley, as well as a heavy blues riff to round it off to be a nice Pearl Jam boogie. Sleeping By Myself sounds like it was written on a ukulele but played on acoustic, and clean toned electric guitars, plus an actual ukulele at one point in the song. It has potential to be a sad and depressing song, with its lyrics and their delivery, but the band just plays the song so darn upbeat, almost like you could listen to the song while listening to the sun rise. Yellow Moon sounds like an early 70’s folk rock song for the most part, reminding me of a Neil Young song, with Matt Cameron’s drumming being toned down to a simple beat with mostly acoustic guitars played over it, with temporary spurts of electric guitar.

The album ends with the piano/acoustic driven ballad Future Days. It is not quite the impactful song that Sirens is, but is rather a goodbye to the album. I find this to be a good track to end the album with. I mean, it doesn’t end with the punch that I think albums should end with, but frankly with an album as diverse as this, there were only so many ways that the band could have gone with the final track, and a send off such as this just shows how daring they can be.

I’m rather happy with Mike McCready’s guitar playing being so at the forefront on this album. Pearl Jam has never been the type of band to completely forget guitar solos, but at the same time Mike has rarely truly shined. While he’s never been a truly revolutionary guitar player in terms of his style, he has shown, both in and out of Pearl Jam, that he has skill to match many guitar players, especially with his obvious blues-rock influence. I mean who doesn’t hear it in Yellow Ledbetter?

Despite what I’ve seen some reviews say of the album, Lightning Bolt is anything but recycled. Luckily, the album has had mostly good reviews, but I feel they could have been better. That’s where I come in, to commemorate the album as a whole and its diverseness. As well, the band doesn’t seem to want to sound trendy, and doesn’t seem to be taking any notes from modern music, which is always the key to a good album. But the biggest key is how they managed to write and record twelve tracks that sound nothing like one another. Since the dawn of music making that has been a difficult objective that most bands cannot do, even Pearl Jam has had trouble doing so on past albums, but not this one.

ALBUM HIGHLIGHT

Lightning Bolt” –­ Mind Your Manners is too heavy to choose as the highlight, just like how Sirens is too soft to do so. No, it’s the title track that best captures the album; it is both serious, but at the same time free spirited in its delivery. The music goes back and forth between soothing verses to a slightly aggressive chorus, and it’s catchy. A good song is always catchy. It’s not an easy choice for a highlight, but I feel this song shows that the band can deliver songs as well as they always have, but have also improved in their years.

FINAL RATING

9.5 (Out of 10)

Track List:

“Getaway” 3:26
“Mind Your Manners” 2:38
“My Father’s Son” 3:07
“Sirens” 5:41
“Lightning Bolt” 4:13
“Infallible” 5:22
“Pendulum” 3:44
“Swallowed Whole” 3:51
“Let the Records Play” 3:46
“Sleeping by Myself” 3:04
“Yellow Moon” 3:52
“Future Days” 4:22
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