Ah Pearl Jam, how I love thee. Back in the 90′s you fuelled my emerging passion for rock music. Through the 00′s you proved to me that a band can indeed grow old gracefully maturing musically without becoming repetitive or repetitive (sic). Now two and a bit decades on you continue to delight me with Lightning Bolt.
Pearl Jam have managed something astounding over the years in that they have experimented with their sound ensuring that no two albums sound alike (perhaps with the exception of early albums Ten and VS), yet they never sound like simply retreading over old territory. The tenth studio album from the Seattle rockers is a veritable smorgasbord of these sounds with a little bit of surfer-dude, servings of punk, stoner, straight radio-rock, and the inevitable ballads. It’s a bit like a ‘Best Of’ album of entirely new songs.
Three superb, fast, rocking starters get you excited and suck you straight into the record before slowing for the delightful ‘Sirens’. Lightning Bolt may have a familiarity to it but it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some more diversity. ‘Infallible’ and ‘Pendulum’ take a few listens to really get to know them and are initially a little lull in the middle of the record though the pace picks up again over the next few slices of perfectly crafted studio rock before finally closing off with ‘Future Days’, easily one of the most touching and beautiful songs the band have ever produced.
Eddie Vedder’s voice is superb throughout with a homeliness that oozes warmth during every single song. He demonstrates some variety in his range with a few more higher notes which serve to prove how far he’s come on since the heavily pastiched early days. Of course, distinctive as the vocal is Pearl Jam are only as good as they are due to being a finely honed machine comprised of some of the finest musicians on the planet. On this album Stone Gossard and Mike McCready’s guitars are evocative, Jeff Ament’s bass is beguiling (he’s one of my favourites to try and play along to; a challenge indeed) and of course Matt Cameron’s expert sticksmanship propping it all up.
Lightning Bolt is an extremely easy album to listen to. It’s well produced, nicely levelled with great clarity on all instruments, particularly bass which I find is lost too often these days. Right now I’m compiling my list of top ten albums of the year. Here’s a little taster – Lightning Bolt is a certainty.