I have been eagerly waiting for this album, as a person who has been on the Pearl Jam journey since they started, it’s with pure emotion that I recall moments of my history with Pearl Jam as the soundtrack. There are different kinds of bands, and I’m not talking about genres or styles, I’m talking about what is at their core, and at Pearl Jam’s core is a heart to bring something meaningful and relevant to the audience.
With the current political climate and world state of unrest, I had a firm belief that Lightning Bolt would harness the collective unease and deliver a collection of tunes that reflected the masses. I could not have been more wrong, what I’ve found is that the album is emotionally uplifting – with undercurrents of the strength of humanity in “the face of it all”. In true Pearl Jam style, they have chosen to see beyond the now and deliver a piece of art that transcends the climate of fear that surrounds.
Musically, there’s a fierceness to certain tracks that haven’t really felt this raw since 1996’s ‘Yield’, and in contrast there are subtle respectful nods to classic sounds from the last 5 decades of music. There is no one style that could label Lightning Bolt, rather it’s a collection of wildly different genres, cohesively packaged into an album.
The first few tracks, ‘Getaway’, ‘Mind Your Manners’ & ‘My Father’s Son’ are prog-tinged punk tracks, strongly led by the rhythm section which allows for some pretty cool riffs from the guitars. Mind Your Manners is one of the best upbeat tracks on the album, while rawness is something Pearl Jam excels at, this has a level of energy that practically demands a response.
Next up we have ‘Sirens’, it has been revealed by Mike McCready that this song was inspired stylistically in part by Pink Floyds ‘The Wall’, it’s a definite story-telling song ala Floyd, the subtlety of various strains do remind of a Floydesque layering of sounds. The track ‘Infallible’ probably has a stronger Floyd feel for me, it could be a relation to the track ‘Money’ but not as infuriatingly annoying (I’m no Floyd fan!).
The title track, Lightning Bolt is reminiscent of the Animal era of Pearl Jam’s career, complimented with a spark of 60’s breakouts sneaking in to keep the sound fresh. This track is a great example of the level of ‘knowing themselves’ that Pearl Jam has. Having the confidence and ability to incorporate obvious influences without feeling the need to blatantly steal someone’s songs – some currently popular bands could learn a lot from Pearl Jam. Back on to Lightning Bolt, the track is a transition from light punk rock, through 60’s pop and resting up with an Americana Springsteenish party atmosphere.
Mixing the sound up again, Pendulum enters with a darkly atmospheric track that would fit equally as well as the soundtrack to a Tarantino movie as it does on this album. To fully appreciate Pearl Jam you have to understand that you can’t second guess what they will do, so for a lifelong Pearl Jam follower this track will be widely accepted, new fans may feel it sticks out a bit too much amongst the rest. If you fit into this category I would simply suggest going through the back catalogue and immersing yourself in the journey that Pearl Jam are.
Swallowed Whole is a great example of another of Pearl Jam’s faces, having the ability to start with a single acoustic and build into an all-out rock track. I would also point out that this track stands as a marker on the album, a marker that what you expected has happened already. The tracks that follow are something different, and could almost form the cornerstone for a 2nd Lightning Bolt album.
Let The Records Play is a blues-rock track, with a really catchy melodic chorus. Just when you think you have a grasp on what the track is trying to deliver we get treated to the vintage large room wah guitar that popularised the band’s sound on the album ‘Ten’, all those years ago. This is gonna be great live, I have to see this track live. MUST.
Another influence brought into Lightning Bolt is the track “Sleeping By Myself”. While technically still being an internal influence, this track was a standout on Vedder’s solo album ’Ukelele Songs’. There’s a light bluegrass hop to the sound, ukulele brought in half way through and an altogether poetic quality to the lyrics. It’s good to see that the band respect each other enough to allow boundary lines to be crossed.
Yellow Moon follows, bringing the pace and mood into a more intimate place. Early Pearl Jam had a lot more of this kind of material. Particularly suited to Vedders range, the haunting melodies ensue, giving such an intense musical experience that it really wouldn’t matter what the words said - it’s where it takes you that is important.
And now the final offering on Lightning Bolt. It keeps the pace down, never really picking up although growing in strength. This is possibly the closest I’ve heard Pearl Jam get to a traditional love song, not in the Celine Dion sense of the word, but more of the deep country crooner talking of real situations that may not be easy but are real. This is Pearl Jam, they are real.
So at the end of Lightning Bolt, the listener is left feeling like they’ve been on a lifelong journey – or maybe it’s just me? I don’t feel ashamed for being all fan-girly about what is possibly the greatest “real band” on the planet today, I would urge any band looking for inspiration to look to these guys & see how to put the music first. I don’t ever do it, but Lightning Bolt gets a 10 out of 10, I would mark them down for citing Pink Floyd as an influence, but I’m inclined to just treat that as a passing phase. So now, time to listen to it again!