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Album Review: Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt


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A band who have been through as much turbulence as Pearl Jam have to know what they are doing to stay on top. And while their contemporaries have died or split-up, or both, they have sat firmly at the top of the ‘biggest rock bands in the world’ list since the early nineties.

Pearl Jam - Lightning BoltThe band have always understood the importance of sounding like Pearl Jam. They have a sound, a feel, something that immediately identifies the music as being by them. They have developed within this but never strayed from it

They have that ‘big sound’ - massive sounding drums and bass, guitars up to eleven and Eddie Vedder’s exceptional vocals driving the whole thing forward.

So, it’s no surprise to say that their tenth studio effort Lightening Bolt is what you would expect from Pearl Jam. With trusted producer Brendan O’ Brien (famed for his big rock sound) at the helm it has the bombast to be considered up there with the band’s best.

It is a record of two halves, the opening six tracks are a relentless punch of energy and colossal riffs. Opener ‘Getaway’ blasts at a relentless pace, a slice of affirming rock.

‘Mind Your Manners’ is Pearl Jam in punk guise (in disguise as Black Flag) proving middle-age doesn’t change their roots.

Daddy/parental issues are given a kicking on bass-driven stomper ‘My Father’s Son’ with a dropped slower mid-section that let Vedder’s vocals soar.

If the record’s first half shows that they can still rock out, the second is an exercise in showing their softer side with ‘Sirens’ stepping well into ballad territory. An ode to a town gone to pot ( “more sirens can be heard across this town”) and love prospering in the middle of this (“I didn’t care before you were here”). It’s a song showing the brilliant juxtaposition of darkness and light that forms the centre of Pearl Jam’s best work, a positive from a negative.

This is true of the whole album which plays the full-throttle rock moments with the serene moments to form an interesting whole.

A surprise inclusion is a reworking of ‘Sleeping by Myself’ from Vedder’s solo album Ukulele Songs, which is a slice almost folky Americana. A sedate ode to heartbreak, it is racked with the self-pity of the dumped. Whilst a little schmaltzy and cheesy, it does indicate a more mature band at work.

The whole thing comes to a close with another ballad, sentimental love song ‘Future Day’. The album’s construction could do with more ebbs and flows, slow and fast punctuating each other rather than being placed in two distinct sections.

All in all Lightning Bolt strikes as a sold addition to the Pearl Jam discography and one that won’t do anything to dent their enduring appeal.

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