Friday, October 11, 2013

Pearl Jam: Lightning Bolt Review

Ten seems like a very fitting number for my relationship with Pearl Jam. I consider Ten to be their best album. It's been ten years since I've saw them for the first time at Madison Square Garden. I've seen them over ten times in concert (Okay, cheating a little bit, it's been 13 shows). And finally, they'll be releasing their tenth studio album in Lightning Bolt.

It's definitely Pearl Jam's most unique effort since Binaural back in 2000. They've released three studio albums since then, two of which -- Riot Act and Backspacer -- I didn't think too highly of. Riot Act was pretty much a swing and miss, as there wasn't really anything special about it. All or None was a really cool song, and Love Boat Captain has become somewhat of a fan favorite, but when you look up-and-down the track listing, does anything really make a fan's top-10?

The self titled album (also known as Avocado) came next, and that was much more well received. There isn't any skippable songs on the album. Quite a few songs are real crowd pleasers when played live (Severed Hand and Life Wasted seem to give the crowd a jolt). And it has one of my personal favorites in Inside Job.

And finally was Backspacer, an album I've heard so many mixed opinions on. I thought it was okay -- definitely better than Riot Act -- but it was missing something for me. I think the sum of the parts is much better than the album as a whole.

Pearl Jam took a bit of a break (four years) to do some solo and side projects, then finally announced Lightning Bolt was coming. We heard some teasers from the album (They released Mind Your Manners as a single, then Sirens, and finally played a few live songs from the Wrigley Field show). Then a few days ago, I saw the tweet heard round the world. Pearl Jam's album was streaming on iTunes.

I quickly put it on, and having many listens since it was released, feel that I have a good grasp of how I feel about the album.

Overall, I think it's an extremely strong album. One of my friends put it best when he said they did a lot of experimentation on the album. Take Pendulum, a slow, chilling track that sounds like something from the No Code era. It works because it isn't your typical Pearl Jam sound.

Sirens -- the second single off of the album -- shows the band's evolution. This isn't an "angry at the world" band anymore. Their older, wiser, and in a much better place. Vedder's voice shines during the chorus.

All of the interviews I've read make me feel like this is the most "at peace" the band has felt. It could be because they took a longer break from the band, but I just think they are all older and have families. They've really shed the label of being a grunge rock group and have become a complete band.

We see a lot more of Mike McCreedy's signature guitar on this album. We have quite a few solos including favorites in the title track Lightning Bolt and Yellow Moon. If you like Vedder's solo album "Ukulele Songs", Yellow Moon incorporates that sound along with the McCreedy guitar to create a really nice song.

Some other favorites from the album include the first song Getaway, just a straight-up fun rock song and My Father's Son, which I feel like could get lost in the shuffle (similar to a song like Cropduster) but a song I really enjoyed.

The standout track to me thus far is Infallible. Honestly didn't expect this, but I legit get goosebumps during this song. Feel like this has the potential to be a live favorite. Well done with this one!

I think the first half of the album is better than the second half, but I also think it is a preference of sounds. On Future Days, it seems like Pearl Jam is going to put at least one of these type of slower songs on their albums moving forward (The End comes to mind). And Sleeping By Myself was pretty forgettable to me, as some Pearl Jam diehards are calling it a Christmas song.

But Pearl Jam is heading into a much different place. If you are looking for angry, angst, grungy hard rock, this isn't that band anymore. This is a band that is focused on not only making great rock music, but making songs which will cater to their live shows. It's amazing to me that they are one of the few that are still thriving out of the early 90s alternative scene.

And here's to hoping they can continue on.

Album Rating: B+

Best Album Moments
-Vedder's voice in Infallible
-Guitar towards the end of Yellow Moon
-3:25 mark of Sirens
-3:35 mark of Sirens