Now in their third decade, the group shows us why their career has maintained such longevity with their new album Lightning Bolt. The follow-up to 2009′s Backspacer, their tenth album sees the band once again collaborate with longtime producer Brendan O’Brien, as they ponder life and mortality in 12 songs, all penned by the group members. Varying from joyous to somber and gentle to aggressive, the tracks span the various moods that have appeared throughout the band’s discography, never straying too far from the standard Pearl Jam sound.
The record begins with an onslaught of hard hitting rockers (‘Getaway’, ‘Mind Your Manners’, ‘My Father’s Son’) before giving way to mid tempo anthems (‘Lightning Bolt’, ‘Infallible’) and poignant ballads (‘Sirens’, ‘Yellow Moon’, and ‘Future Days’). A detour into blues territory with the infectious ‘Let the Records Play’ offers one of the most fun moments of the album, while the folk of ‘Sleeping By Myself’ (a rework of the song which previously appeared on Eddie Vedder’s album Ukulele Songs in 2011) offers more texture (although some will inevitably prefer the intimacy of the solo original).Even though at times the material does feel less raw and more polished than their earlier records, Eddie Vedder’s vocals are as powerful as ever, and Pearl Jam are still full of the angst and energy that initially made a generation fall for them. Their punk still has its edge, and their instrumentation is as strong as ever.
Overall, there is a sense of comfort in the familiarity of the sound that drives Lightning Bolt, as it demonstrates a band that is confident and perhaps a bit complacent. There isn’t any drastic experimentation on this record, and Pearl Jam certainly isn’t chasing contemporary trends to stay relevant, but at the same time they aren’t stagnant or monotonous either. This is an album that their core audience will definitely appreciate, as, in essence, the band is still doing what they have been doing all along, which is what they’re known for and what they’re good at. There is enough familiarity here to invoke nostalgia, but not so much that it would make the record redundant. Yes, some listeners might think the set gets a little bogged down by predictability, but if at first it seems a little too familiar, give it a few spins, get to know its tracks, and let it grow on you; you will definitely be able to feel its various textures after multiple listens. Ultimately a few decades from now Lightning Bolt might not prove to be as memorable as Ten or Vitalogy, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a thoroughly enjoyable record by one of the most consistent and uncompromising bands in rock and roll history.