Don’t ask me how, but fairly recently a friend of mine saw Eddie Vedder poolside in just his swim trunks. “You know,” she said, “you’d think that for living the rock and roll lifestyle for so long he’d be looking a little worse for wear. But you know… he looked pretty good!” And as I listen to Pearl Jam’s new album Lightning Bolt my mind keeps going back to that sentiment. You’d think that after 22 years of releasing albums that maybe Ed, Stone, Mike, Jeff, and Matt might sound a bit tired, a bit…worse for wear. Truth is, Lightning Bolt is a solid album, easily eclipsing the lackluster Backspacer (2009) and Pearl Jam (2006) and working toward the level of their best albums (Yield (1998), Vitalogy (1994)). Pearl Jam’s been working out, even at this later stage in the band’s career.
‘Getaway’ starts the album off in the usual Pearl Jam style, Vedder’s slightly goaty vocal swaggering up and down the verses to a driving Matt Cameron beat. The first single, ‘Mind Your Manners,’ is quick and punky, and the band gets to yell along in the background. ‘Sirens’ is a mid-tempo ballad with a nice guitar part by Mike McCready that calls sounds dreamy, layered, and majestic. In fact, the album plays out quite confidently, although it doesn’t seem to break much new ground (‘Pendulum,’ with its doomy-western guitar and horse-plodding beat being one exception). There seems to be no harm in sticking with what you know and what works, and Pearl Jam is a band that sounds like itself and no other, and I can’t find any fault with playing to strengths.
The only issue I had with Lightning Bolt was the way it goes on and on at the end. ‘Let the Records Play’ is an awesome bluesy jam courtesy of Stone Gossard and easily my favorite track of the bunch (it makes me wanna shake it), but after it come a series of slow, quiet, pondering songs. Every time I listen to the album, I get the sense that I’ve been lulled to sleep, only to suddenly think to myself…”what? It’s over?” in the silence that I didn’t realize was there. Maybe I’m just getting older and prone to napping. Pearl Jam is still rocking and when they’re rocking they sound best. Plus it keeps me awake (I don’t go to the gym like they do). Good job, sonnies, good job.