Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt

Titles say a lot in Pearl Jam’s discography. Not in the sense that they do with any artist — you know, cluing you into what they’re writing about — but in the sense that the structure of their titles hints at what version of Pearl Jam you’re about to get. For the longest time, they favored short, enigmatic, often single word titles for their albums, sometimes making up their own borrowing them from obscure medical texts (Vitalogy) or bending a familiar form into an abstract summation of the LP in question (Ten, Vs., No Code, Yield). Unless you count the greatest hits collection Rearviewmirror or a smattering of official live releases, the longest album title they’d had thus far was Backspacer, at a whopping ten letters. That is, until Lightning Bolt, which at fourteen letters is practically a Fiona Apple couplet of a Pearl Jam album name. Not only that, but its words are plain and everyday in a way that none of their album titles have been. There was mystery in No Code and Riot Act. Not so much in Lightning Bolt. It just sounds like any old rock album name, but also a slight one, a record without a defining characteristic or larger resonance. Compared to the opacity of prior releases, it’s a generic name coming off as downright banal.

Though that all might make Lightning Bolt sound like it’s a turning point, it’s more like an end result. The line in the sand was really 2006′s Pearl Jam, the move of self-titling a clear reset button for the band but also so unsettling for fans that they still regularly refer to it as Avocado. That nickname was derived from the self-titled album’s cover, and Pearl Jam’s cover art too has seemed symbolic. Backspacer was plenty slick musically, but maybe the main reason it felt compressed and distant was the cartoons on the cover, as if this set of songs were animated retreads through Pearl Jam’s history, “Amongst the Waves” a less humanized Yield, acoustic ballads like “Just Breathe” and “The End” coloring too cleanly within those lines when this band had written such heart-rending stuff as “Fatal.” I approached Lightning Bolt with similar trepidation. Its cover, its singles’ covers, the video for “Mind Your Manners” — they all had that same cartoon thing going on (given, in a more graphic art style that was not dissimilar from how they’d often rendered tour posters or official bootleg covers in the past). Between the straightforward title and the cover, I went in afraid that it’d be another outing of Pearl Jam performing their vision of “Pearl Jam rocking out again.”

So what kind of Pearl Jam album is Lightning Bolt? To a certain extent, my expectations were accurate. It is very much of a piece with their last two releases, another record where they eschew the art-rock flirtations of ’94-’02 (Vitalogy-Riot Act) and continue to embody a classic rock version of themselves. They’re still more or less interested in sticking to a back-to-basics sound with only the occasional gesture towards experimentation or expanding their sound. The good news is that it works better than it did with either Pearl Jam or Backspacer. When Lightning Bolt is on, it’s some of their best material in the last ten years, its highlights rivaled only by the very best songs on the self-titled album. One pleasant surprise is that it’s dustier than Backspacer, not to the ramshackle and beleaguered levels of Riot Act, but with music that feels a bit more lived in. Another pleasant but double-edged surprise is its departure from its predecessor in quality. Where Backspacer was an exceedingly consistent experience of mid-level Pearl Jam material, Lightning Bolt whiplashes you between its highs and lows, all that good stuff refused the ability to cohere into a unified whole by a few weak links that wreck the album’s pacing.

The album starts off strong, “Getaway” ranking amongst their very best openers and easily amongst the best latter-day Pearl Jam songs. Like the other best moments on Lightning Bolt, it marries the impulses of post-Riot Act Pearl Jam perfectly. Vedder is singing clearer and more melodically, which allows the band to rock when they want, but to do it in a catchy way. Ultimately, this works to their benefit, a nuanced take that suggests their maturity more so than any attempt to still thrash around. Lead single “Mind Your Manners” is sort of guilty of the latter, being the seemingly now-obligatory Vitalogy call-back they do every now and then. It’s likeable, though I’d rather it didn’t take the place of “Whipping” on a setlist.

For me, the unquestionable high of the album is the run that starts with the title track and concludes with “Swallowed Whole.” Both are moments where Pearl Jam writes a Pearl Jam rock song totally effortlessly. “Lightning Bolt” is an early contender with “Getaway” for album standout, and “Swallowed Whole” is, like “Sad” thirteen years before it, a clear signifier of Vedder’s youthful obsession with R.E.M. With some much murkier production, its jangle-rock would be a direct descendent of Murmur. As “Lightning Bolt” and “Swallowed Whole” are two of the best straight-up Pearl Jam rock songs we’ve gotten in a while, they bookend the only two instances of “weird Pearl Jam” on Lightning Bolt. The emphatic groove of the verses in “Infallible” is built around the most interesting sound on the album (guitarist Stone Gossard told me it was some sort of synthesized percussion noise that was then produced to the point where it sort of sounds like a guitar or organ layered with effects). These verses wrap around it in tight, constricted rhythms, peeling open into one of the best choruses on the album. It’s followed by “Pendulum,” which isn’t quite like anything else in Pearl Jam’s catalog. Its spiritual concerns and exoticism seem reminiscent of No Code, but its textures are more twilit, making it perhaps a slightly clearer-eyed cousin to songs like “Of the Girl,” “Nothing As it Seems,” or even “You Are.” We could use more Pearl Jam songs like it.

As much as there’s all this to love on Lightning Bolt, its lesser moments threaten to scuttle the whole experience. I still can’t decide how I ultimately feel about the already-divisive “Sirens.” There are parts that are gorgeous, especially the band making rare use of guitars in a more atmospheric way they’d do well to revisit. Like many fans, there are also parts of it that make me cringe. It’s later when things really go off the rails, though. Right after “Swallowed Whole” closes out the album’s peak, the band goes into “Let the Records Play,” another in the lineage of Backspacer track “Johnny Guitar”: a more workmanlike rock title promises a more workmanlike rock song. In this case, “Let the Records Play” is exactly like it sounds: a borderline cheesy bar-band blues-rock that’s saved only by a decently catchy chorus. After that things slow way down for a full-band rendition of “Sleeping By Myself,” a song that’d previously been released on Vedder’s solo album Ukelele Songs. It’s not bad, but also feels tangential. Closer “Future Days” is also somewhat superfluous, ending Lightning Bolt way too similarly to how “The End” finished Backspacer. The best moment of the troubled final act of Lightning Bolt is “Yellow Moon,” a gorgeous mash-up of Vedder’s Into the Wild work and a classic mid-tempo Pearl Jam song. It has a much clearer identity than “Future Days,” and it refers back to a strain of Vedder’s songwriting I’d still like to see explored more thoroughly.

After spending a decent amount of time with Lightning Bolt, this is more or less where I stand on it: It’s good, sometimes great. I think I’ll revisit it more than the last two, probably much more. But there’s something in the way — it hasn’t really dug into me, and I haven’t really dug into it in the same way I once did with their music. While there are few problems with the music itself, when putting it in context of having followed Avocado and Backspacer, it can raise concerns about where we might be headed with the band.

A certain version of Pearl Jam ended with Riot Act. Since their third record, 1994′s Vitalogy, the band had continuously eschewed their mainstream success in favor of leaning more deliberately alternative, messing with their sound, and, speaking objectively about my favorites albums of theirs, simply making music that sounded uglier. I’m in a certain (but vocal) pseudo-minority of the fanbase that finds Yield, the middle of this process, to be a hidden masterpiece. I’m in a considerably smaller part of the fanbase that loves Riot Act. Sure, that album is all dulled burnt orange hues and wearied midnight wanderings, but even as many fans bemoaned the grayscale of Vedder’s delivery on it (pretty rightfully, though I’d argue it works for many of those songs) ironically it felt like the last moment Pearl Jam really gave us something. Each successive record has felt like some attempt at course correction, or a facsimile of what Pearl Jam imagined people expected them to be. Even when that approach works — as it does on most of Lightning Bolt — it still feels somehow removed from the band we’ve known and loved. They sounded best when they were striving and not always succeeding, their art-rock detours always more interesting than their middle-age rewrites of “Spin the Black Circle.”

The reason I bring this up is because, combined with Backspacer, Lightning Bolt suggests we’re in the midst of a previously unseen version of the band: happy Pearl Jam. As far as these last three straightforward albums go, Avocado still had an anger about it, much of it informed by frustrations with the Bush administration and the ongoing war in Iraq. Its engagement was vital even if its music was at times stale. By the time Backspacer rolled around, though, the band could find hope outside of themselves as well as closer to home. It was the early, fleetingly halcyon days of the Obama administration; many of them were married and having kids. Pearl Jam entered the scene enraged in a specifically youthful way, an approach that appropriately fizzled out and gave way to a mid-career era of questioning and, eventually, somberness. They eventually grew out of that, too. Not only on a personal life level, but as a band — they’re reportedly functioning better than ever, more comfortable with how they work and with each other.

You don’t ever want to begrudge an artist some bit of solace when they’ve found it. We’re just at a point where it’s hard to know — for fans or for the band themselves — what we should expect out of Pearl Jam. This is an artist whose entire being was derived from discomfort in one form or another. Even as the band spent the ’90s going through twists and turns trying to define what sort of band they’d be in the commercial landscape, that searching was the artistic focus. They had grown up out of their early angst, but were still far from being at peace, and I’d argue this era in the band’s life produced their best work. There are many moments on Lightning Bolt that refer to mortality, but the stakes don’t seem like they’re there anymore, even when in reality they’re there quite a bit more as the band members close in on 50. Look, of course we want the band to be in a happy place in their lives. They’ve given us fans more than enough, and they’ve more than earned that for themselves. What’s disconcerting is that even as strong as much of Lightning Bolt is, it’s starting to sound like Pearl Jam on autopilot. All the guitars are still reliably distorted, but its with the crunch of slightly overcooked pizza crust, no longer the abrasiveness of sledgehammers hitting glass upon asphalt. The struggle in Pearl Jam’s music has been mollified.

The end result is an album that sounds brighter than those blurry mid-era Pearl Jam albums, and that can be seen as an improvement in some ways, I suppose. But its lightness can also translate to weightlessness, and Pearl Jam’s never really been an artist that has exploited weightlessness. Quite the opposite, really. Like all their titles before, Lightning Bolt tells you something about the music therein, though it now blatantly announces where others alluded — this album is about punchiness when it rocks, and seeks immediacy in its ballads, even if that means they wind up sounding like the mellow acoustic material any rock band could crank out. That’s fine. Pearl Jam have achieved what they set out to do here, and they’ve got a solid album on their hands. It’s just that I can’t help but still long for the days when the notion of Pearl Jam writing about mortality meant that the music would sound searching, too. Maybe a little messy. I still long for the days when Pearl Jam summed up their albums with a single cipher, but imbued them with the gravity of thousands more.

Stream Lightning Bolt on iTunes now. The album is out 10/15.

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Comments (64)
  1. vitalogy is a book from 1899, a pseudo health guide/reference.

    • This is accurate. I have amended the text to reflect this correction, for which we thank you, Nick. Ryan, consider the strike-thru above a black mark on your permanent record (to say nothing of mine as your editor). For shame.

  2. ugh to ruminating about album title word length

    yes to the parallels of bush/obama and self-titled/backspacer moods

  3. Man, several paragraphs were spent discussing the album title. Come one, dude.

    I’ve never found any single Pearl Jam album that wasn’t divisive in the fanbase in some way. It’s hilarious how some think they’re only just getting divisive in the few late albums in their career., but I guess the internet can magnify things. I sometimes imagine how crazy stuff would’ve gotten on message boards if Vitalogy came out in the internet era.

    I’m feeling lots of stuff to sink my teeth into with this one, some potential for outright PJ classic songs too. I look forward to lots of car rides with this one on.

    • Vitalogy was hugely divisive BEFORE the internet era. I know people who became lifelong fans, as well as some who completely gave up and never came back, because of that album.

      • I would wager “No Code” is a close second but I love both those records despite their willful deviating from the sound of Ten.

        • Without apologies, No Code is my favorite PJ album, followed closely by Yield, then Vs. But I do truly enjoy the entirety of their catalog and wouldn’t have anything negative to say to someone for having completely different favorites.

          For whatever reason, I was at a place in my life where I wasn’t listening to a lot of rock music when Binural was released, so I completely missed that album. And I mean COMPLETELY, as in, to this day. My interaction with the songs from that album are strictly in the live context (which is great, to be honest). I’m sure it’s a fine album, because I appreciate all of their albums. But I sometimes wonder if the reason why it didn’t get as much praise as the rest of their releases is because other people just “missed it” as well.

          I don’t understand why Backspacer is getting dismissed as being a throwaway album, an opinion which seems to be growing. It’s a really good listen, and it’s very short, so it just flies by. I think I listened to that album more times than any other latter day PJ album and I’ve always really enjoyed it. So some of the comments about it here have really surprised me.

          That’s pretty much everything I’ve been considering saying in this comment section.

  4. I agree – solid album, but the band sounds like its on autopilot. The “searching” is no longer present in PJ’s music.

    • Maybe they found what they were looking for – in life and in their music. There’s something to be said for dependability, quality and craft.

  5. Very well written article. I wonder if the S/T record came out before Riot Act if the writer would make the same assertion that there was some kind of break between the two records and from that point on PJ’s been cranking out ‘PJ in the style of PJ’. I personally have a hard time choosing between the two as they’re similar to all post-Binaural albums in as far as ‘here’s a bunch of rockers and a bunch of mostly skippable quiet ones’.

    I always thought that there’s a significant contingent of PJ fans, certainly not something I’d describe as a minority, that consider Yield to be a masterpiece. it’s certainly my favorite.

    • Yield is the shit, No Code is the shit, Binaural is the shit, Backspacer has 6 great songs and 5 meh ones, self-titled is the shit, Riot Act I bought like 6 years ago and have listened to it like twice, I haven’t heard the new one yet because I refuse to stream shit, but I’ll like it. I like “Sirens” even if it sounds like Grandpa Eddie beckoning us around the camp fire to tell us a story we’ve all heard 85 times already. I kind of agree with this douche that wrote the article in that Pearl Jam is too happy now. They are. They are way too happy. I don’t listen to Pearl Jam and expect buoyant, happy ballads and shit. I wanna hear the ANGST, man.

      That’s why Eddie Vedder should start dating Lindsay Lohan.

      If he started bangin that trash heap, he would inevitably become depressed, write crazier songs, and instead of walking into middle age with a smile on his face, he would get his ol’ Eddie scowl and be pissed again. Middle age does not fit this band. Contentment does not fit this band. Happy Eddie is like sad David Lee Roth…no one wants to hear that shit. C’mon, Eddie! Get miserable again! Bang Lindsay Lohan and then bang Taylor Swift and go on a bender. And I say that in the most loving way possible.

      I have a similar argument for Rivers Cuomo. If he got divorced, it would be the best thing ever for Weezer, because happy Rivers is the worst thing I’ve ever heard. That pile of steaming dogshit Japanese album he put out is STILL ringing in my head and I only sampled 5 seconds of each song on iTunes. Just absolute dogshit. I FREAKIN LOVE MY LIFE!!! My god. Rivers, you’re 40 years old. What the fuck is this shit? I don’t even wanna know what the next Weezer record is gonna sound like…he’ll probably have a song on there about sox (excuse me, “sex”) again. Jesus Christ.

      All that being said, I’ll probably love Lightning Bolt and it’ll go along side Vampy Weeks and Yeezus and Paramore (yes…really) in my BEST OF 2013 music list. Beady Eye is making that list too, even though all the fucking ballads.Jesus the ballads. Liam is the greatest singer in rock n’ roll history, and he gets on the list cuz he could sing Taylor Swift songs for the rest of his career and I’d still listen to him sneer.

  6. One of the funny things about the PJ fanbase is the thing where haters of a particular album come around about 2 albums later. It seems to always happen. Ultimately, that speaks to their consistency. They’re like Peyton Manning, limited number of championships, but strong to great play throughout.

    • On the other hand, I feel like there’s also tons of enthusiasm from fans (I’m gleaning this primarily from being at concerts and lurking on their forums) right when a new one is released, and then somewhere along the line they turn on it. “Well the last one was no good, but now they’re back on track!”…and then it’s the same thing four years later. I think Michael talked about that a bit when he did his Counting Down feature on Pearl Jam, and I’m planning on digging into how varied the attitudes of their fanbase are in a different piece next week.

      • Great point. It would be awesome if you explored that.

        I think they’re sort of in this Tom Petty category, just putting out B+ and sometimes A material. No album seems to be universally loved or hated, they all have hardcore enthusiasts and detractors, all the way back to Ten.

        There’s hipsters and casual fans just within the fanbase alone, and there are writers within just the fanbase that are as good as any blog out there. And they are smart and learned and critical music listeners who love tons of other interesting artists. This is a cool fan community to be a part of because of all of that.

  7. …refraining from reading until after vinyl arrives so that I can test drive it without preconceptions…

    p.s. don’t use these in any posts: <

  8. Aaron Cunningham  |   Posted on Oct 8th, 2013 +3

    Count me in the list of people who love “Yield” and “Riot Act” too. For my money, “No Code” is my favorite Pearl Jam album precisely because it has so much of that “searching” quality you mentioned. I’m excited to get in a car and hear “Lightning Bolt” for the first time, but “Backspacer” has left me more than a little apprehensive. There was so much skippable material on that record it was almost an EP.

  9. This album is pretty good! Certainly better than Backspacer, which I think was their low point. Avocado has a couple of great songs and a lot of filler.

    Honestly, I’m probably the only one, but Binaural has always been my favorite, perhaps because it came during that impressionable high school period for me. But it’s so well-recorded and atmospheric and the songs are really great and unusual.

    • It’s not my favorite, but I agree with you that Binaural gets a raw deal. It’s probably their most forgotten/wrongfully maligned. You’ve got “Nothing As It Seems,” “Of the Girl,” and “Thin Air,” which are all great, and “Light Years” and “Insignificance,” which are actually two of my favorite Pearl Jam songs. A lot of underrated stuff on there, and two of their best b-sides (“Sad,” “Fatal”) were recorded during those sessions.

  10. Binaural is effing rad

  11. Binaural still reigns as my fav post 2000 PJ album

  12. What we learned: Lightening Bolt is a long album title, and it is time Riot Act reappraisal (?). What a pointless (and desperate) cry for attention.

  13. I think the real acid test for any late-period album in a band’s career is: will any of these songs remain on the setlist when they’re touring the next album? Will the fans care if they don’t? If they don’t, then we’re definitely looking at those “returns to form” that are more wishful thinking than accurate evaluation. And being a passionate fan of all things “Yield” and back, heaven knows I’d love to see Pearl Jam record another great album. It’s just that I don’t see it happening.

    • good point about if the songs will remain on the setlist for the next record’s tour…seen that happen plenty of times with plenty of bands.

  14. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a PJ record on first listen. Vitalogy maybe, but for the most part I tend to let ‘em grow on me, and inevitably they always do. That said, I pretty much loved this one on the first listen. Granted, I’d heard half the record before sitting down and listening to the whole thing straight through, but still, I loved it when I did. To be AC/DC or not to be AC/DC… PJ seems pretty insistent on not being AC/DC, and for that I thank them. In striving not to repeat themselves to often, they obviously have missed the mark at times, but I’ll argue that the consistency of their output can be matched by few other artist. LIGHTNING BOLT carries on with the mission, but I can’t help but feel they’ve finally arrived at where they’ve been tryin to get the last few discs. Just the right mix of ingredients they’ve been collecting, zigging where you expect them to zag, and mixing the hard with the soft to a much more powerful effect than they achieved the last few outings. I think Eddies Lyrics are great, and his singing across the record matches the best moments he’s had since TEN. I don’t look for new PJ to replace old PJ, I just want more… one more disc that fits nicely in the catalog. I think they tend to take that approach too, based on the respect they give all of their material live. Either way, PJ continues to be the soundtrack to my life…and for that I am a grateful man. Too my ears it sounds fresher and more immediate than they have in years. YIELD and BINAURAL are my two favs for sure, and this new one fits right in there with them. Keep the story goin boys… we’re listening!

  15. I love this band so don’t ask me to be critical.

  16. You give credit to it… saying its a good record and sometimes a great record, but can we fault a band for its maturity? I understand “happy Pearl Jam” sounds nothing like “angry Pearl Jam” or “reactive Pearl Jam” or even “protesting Pearl Jam”, but can’t good-sometimes great be good enough?

    I won’t ever knock someone else’s trip, but I feel like you thought up an incredible closing sentence and convinced yourself of the rationale to get there.

    PS: I’m with you. YIELD is a 12 out of 10.

  17. Fantastically accurate commentary on this band. I feel the exact same way, with Riot Act being way up their in my estimation. I can’t ever see myself revisiting Backspacer. You nailed by saying that the stakes no longer seem like they are there. Its fine that the band seem happy I wish they would just explore the possibilities of music more. Some of their later dad-rock material screams ”We kind of want a different type of success now” when the hardcore fans, critics, new fans and maybe even the band themselves would do much better to delve into experimentation.

    Thanks for the review.

  18. It’s missing the urgency that was more prevalent on earlier records, but I think the band is finally comfortable being who they are. Sirens really pissed me off at first, but I’ve grown to really like it. Pearl Jam trying to write a semi modern sweeping atmospheric ballad, and doing a pretty good job of it.

    In the end, whatever keeps them moving forward, committed and touring is all we as fans really need.

  19. It occurs to me that as PJ gets older, so do their fans. My taste has changed as I’ve gotten older. Not that I do not like new music, but PJ is my favorite band and I love getting older with them and seeing where they go. I, for one, love Avocado, Yield, and Binaural. I really love them all with No Code and Riot Act being at the bottom of my list.

  20. does everyone call it ‘Avocado’? i just call it the ‘self-titled’ album.

    side bar: i have a baseless opinion that S/T records that aren’t the band’s first album are generally not very good (although i do like PJ’s :)). Por ejemplo:

    Interpol
    MGMT

  21. I disagree with so much of what you say in the first three paragraphs (which reads as you trying WAY TOO HARD to say something interesting and important – like a shadow of an old Rolling Stone article) that I didn’t even bother to read the actual “review”.

  22. Good review. I first streamed this while going for a run at the gym, so I’d like to hear it in a few different settings (i.e., the car or just hanging around the house). As I wait for the vinyl to arrive, I think I am going to really enjoy Side A more than Side B. This record had me locked-in through Infallible, and actually Pendulum is a pretty decent track, if not a little dark and moody. But then things drop off considerably, in my opinion.

    Yellow moon tries to bring it back with some success, and Future Days is a nice little song but I could have used a powerful album closer in the vein of “Release” or “Indifference” to top this record off.

    With any Pearl Jam record, I need to give it more time to mature before I can truly evaluate it. I love any record they put out the first few listens through, but my early impressions jibe with this review. It blends Backspacer and Avocado (which are both very good efforts) but falls short of greatness.

    I really can’t complain though. 22 years and 10 records in, to put out an album with 5 or 6 great songs that have potential to be regulars in a live set is a very good accomplishment.

    7.5 / 10 is my rating for now.

  23. This is the best article about Pearl Jam I have read in years, so the guy talks about the length of album titles. They HAVE been short titles and I never realized that and it’s kind of funny, just relax. The paragraph that starts with “A certain version of Pearl Jam ended with Riot Act.” is a fine summation of post 2000 PJ. Backspacer was a horrendously bad record and I’m embarrassed about it. Pearl Jam’s finest album was Binaural and they ended with Riot Act, any new material to come out of Pearl Jam now is to just to keep the tour going and it’s sad. Also, Eddie is going bald… Eddie Vedder should have hair, that’s obvious. Life has no meaning.

  24. Good article, mostly because you can tell the guy just really likes Pearl Jam and was invested in it.

    I kinda skipped on Backspacer – it just gave me “disposable” vibe, but I’ll definitely give this one more of a go, I think. S/T kicked ass, and was a welcome recovery after Riot Act, which missed way more than it hit. Binaural was excellent. So at that ratio/pace Lighting Bolt should be a keeper.

  25. As for the 90s stuff, it’s all pretty killer, but I think Yield is my least favorite of them. I LOVE Vs. – No Code, and as much as I like to undersell Ten, it’s got some absolute monsters on it, so I’d say it edges out Yield.

  26. Very premature review, with some highs and lows, let me clarify some things:

    I´ve been listening to Lightning Bolt for two days in a row non-stop and i´m still not tired of it, which is a good sign; my first impression was that this album is the best they’ve made in a very long time, and by listening to it so many times, i confirm it: Lightning Bolt is the best collection of songs the band has managed to put together since Yield. Don’t get me wrong, i´m a die hard fan since ’93 when i first heard Ten, but the 00´s was´nt a good decade for them, rock music changed a lot, they became obsolete and thus focus themselves to a more classic vibe oriented rock which reached it’s “not so great” streak with Backspacer. Lightning Bolt is definitely a game changer, although they retain their latter classic rock drive, it has plenty of elements that define a more consistent direction to the band, a band that, as you mentioned had some well defined “eras”, which in my case are coincidentially determined by their drummers (Ten stands alone, Vs and Vitalogy are tied to the same concept, No Code, Yield and Binaural are the experimental years, and Riot Act, Avocado and Backspacer the albums where te band tried to define a new direcion but could’nt). Personally, i was getting a bit tired of the surf songs, and this new album arrives with 12 songs that in my opinon are all solid, the only flawed one for me is My Father’s Son, which i find a bit “unfinished”, but the remaining 11 are tip top rock n roll; yeah, nostalgic fans miss the anger and psychedelia of the mid 90´s records, but hey, this is a band with a 22 years history span, and after a decade of trying and not succeding in their quest to redefine their sound i think they finally got it. High points for me are definitely Sirens (such a beautifully crafted song), Lightning Bolt (Townshend would be proud, reminds me of The Real Me), Infallible (great arrangements, Gossard’s unique style), Pendulum (Could have been on No Code), Swallowed Whole (MFC but better), Let the records play (Awesome tune, beatlelike, tell me a single band that can do a proper rock n roll song these days) and Yellow Moon (Low light revisited). Bottomline, if they can pull off a next album as consistent as this one, it will grant them once and for all a place in rock n roll valhalla. It’s refreshing to hear Pearl Jam today, standing out of all the shitty music that the 00´s and the 10´s so far has brought us.

    • I’d throw Riot Act into the experimental years. You’ve got “You Are” and other less radio friendly rock on there than S/T and Backspacer. If anything it’s their most bluesy record.

  27. i’ll give you a premature evaluation: they’re too old, let the kids have a chance…next

  28. The elephant in the room is on the drums. Ever since Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam, something has diminished. The guys seem to love him and think he’s really creative and that he allows them to do different timings, but no fan will ever list a Cameron album as their favorite (cue the internet trolls). Of course, I don’t discount the “happy” factor. That is spot on, as well. But, consider the grooves on Vs. Consider the tribal elements of No Code. Cameron pounds on drums, but I find his style unappealing and vanilla. Dave A. is my fav PJ drummer, followed by Jack Irons, and then probably Krusen. I’ve never found myself cuing in to the drumwork on any Cameron track.

    The Riot Act fans that have all the sudden come out of thin air are kidding themselves. This is just the last time we saw Pearl Jam get creative. It doesn’t mean it was good creative. Evacuation, anyone?!? please.

    One more thing, I don’t understand the Sirens backlash, really. How is it different than Man of the Hour? Or And I find it relatively similar to Low Light, as well, which everyone seems to love. I like Sirens. It is what the band is now, whether we like that or not. Which I don’t. I’m down with the searchers. But, like most of you agree, I am happy to see them happy. I just probably don’t want to listen to it, as much. Which is weird. Usually I don’t like listening to unhappy people. So, I think my Pearl Jam respect just grew ten fold.

    That’s all.

    • Yes to the drummer commentary. Cameron seems like a great guy, but I personally didn’t appreciate the style or sound he brought to the band. For the best is Irons. There was something raw, something soulful to his drumming.

      That being said, I still stand behind Binaural and Riot Act. I think they’re lesser albums than No Code and Yield, but I still enjoyed the early 2000′s period.

    • Regarding Sirens, as I mentioned in a previous comment section, I think you can take the comparisons all the way back to Ten with Black. PJ has always done big, slow jams like this.

    • i actually like evacuation. you could instantly tell it was a matt cameron song ie very soundgarden-ish.

  29. Okay, maybe that’s not all. I never thought I’d see the day when THE B-Side band of all time would take a track and rehash it. I like Sleeping By Myself with the whole band, but let’s put THAT on a B-Side or on a soundtrack, or save it for the box set, bonus track, something. That tells you right there that unfortunately PJ are out of ideas. They recorded this album in 2 sessions with 2 years between and came up with… “uh, let’s just do one those ukelele songs, Ed.” disappointing to see the day. But, overall, best album in a few.

  30. Good article, Ryan. Paragraph 8 is probably as closely aligned with my personal feelings as you possibly could have written it.

  31. I think the sad thing is, as with all things Pearl Jam, people overthink it. The fact is, this is a GREAT record, anything else is just picking and digging for whatever. This ranks up with Pearl Jam classics like Vitalogy, Im just sorry that people can’t just let it be what it is, a great record.

  32. Only true PJ fans just say it’s awesome.

  33. and i dont know some of you Pearl Jam fans keep harping on the drummer issue. Move on, the band is happy at this stage with Matt; there may be better Pearl Jam drummers out there but remember its the whole band dynamics/chemistry which holds the band together, not just one drummer. Aint gonna happen that Dave A, Jack Iron reunion….

  34. Hail, Hail to Ryan Leas. The most spot-on review of the album, the band, and where it fits in the arc of the band’s career. I agree with each of your sentiments and can tell the band means/meant as much to you as they did/do to me. Well done.

  35. I completely agree with your review and synopsis of PJ’s career.

    I still will listen to whatever they put out but stopped “seriously” and eagerly anticipating their new stuff after S/T. Riot Act was their last great album.

    The middle albums were the best: Vitalogy, No Code, Yield, Binaural, and Riot Act

    They somehow stopped being “arty” and I feel that ultimately hurt them. Without the experimentation it’s like the same old, same old.

  36. After a long day, I’ve just spent the past 4 hours with Lightning Bolt, approaching it from different angles and soaking in the predictably mixed reviews surrounding the final product. I can safely say you’ve put it better than anything I’ve read so far with the right balance of appreciation and critical engagement, you deserve all the praise you’re getting from other users. Hats off to you sir!

  37. What a great review of Lightning Bolt. As a longtime PJ fan, I couldn’t quite put my finger on my issues with the album but this review really summed it up for me. Yes, there are some good songs albeit not really great ones. Overall the album leaves me thinking that it’s not that PJ isn’t capable of putting out an album they just have settled into life and the music seems reflective of their place in life. Sadly, I think that this is what we will come to expect of them. Future music will just provide PJ with a reason to tour and ultimately they will become just that, a novelty touring act with enough music to carry them along. I was really afraid this was going to happen and I, too was concerned when I heard the album title would be Lightning Bolt. I have been a fan of pretty much every album…including Avocado and Riot Act and have always really anticipated each new release even as they became farther and farther apart. Even now as I am in my 40′s, I find a lot of new music really satisfying. Indie bands like Grizzly Bear and Tame Impala have that energy and experimentation that I used to count on from Pearl Jam. Those days are clearly in the past. Overall I’m really happy that I read this interview and now have confirmation of my feelings regarding this new music and why it’s not on REPEAT for 3 months like PJ albums of yore….

  38. Most accurate review I’ve ever read on a PJ album. Reads more like a fan wrote it rather than someone merely asked to do a review. While Pearl Jam is (and likely will be for years) my favorite band, I can agree on the observations in this review. The aging of Vedder’s voice can’t be helped but the bland distortion tone they’ve settled on for the last 3 albums and the songwriting can. For three albums now the media has claimed each to be a “return to the rocking pearl jam we remember.” Miss the days when they were interested in exploring new directions (vitology-riot act)

    • Oh and perhaps something I’ve noticed but no one else seems to mention is that Vedder sings in long run on sentences and nearly throughout the entire songs. Let the music breath a little!

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