Review Summary: Lightning strikes again5 of 5 thought this review was well written
Pearl Jam have long since established a sense of formula for their records; that is, start off energetic, pinball between emotional melancholy and visceral action only to crash in a final operatic boom. It's something that's easy to complain about, mainly because it is what it is- a formula. However on their latest effort Lightning Bolt, they prove that they can make this formula exciting by exploiting both sides of PJ to exciting extremes.
The going gets tough in the first section of the record. Typically Pearl Jam open up on a bout of aggressive numbers, with Bolt being no exception. The first 2 tracks, Getaway and Mind Your Manners, ride a hard rock vapor trail into this albums ever rising heights- echoed later on the destructive roll along of Let the Record Play. In a whirl it all flies around your head- darting back and forth are some of Mike McCready's most magnetic riffs yet (quite literally forced attraction), blasting along with a rebellious beat and an uncharacteristic ferocity on the tip of Eddie Vedder's viper tongue- in seconds it seems to smash into their abrupt choruses. Even with that the dexterity seems weirdly melodic and precise in the passages and the general arrangement. This isn't radio friendly and won't be inspiring much for casuals- and thank bloody Christ above for it. After a million too many Last Kiss's since the year 2000 (not discounting the occasional Bu$hleaguer), this *** is positively pompous, punk metal craziness. The same can be said to an extent of My Father's Son, but its overt display of power could put off the 'Better Man' side of PJ's fan-base. Don't discount it because of this but beware of its ferocious attitude.
Entering the middle section, fans can expect to experience what could possibly be a breaking point of sorts- the marvelous Sirens. With its caramel melodies and cascading guitars, it's understandable why this is dividing fans so intensely. What's being taken for granted though is how well Vedder & Co. pull this track off, making clear and concise observations of cruelty to a wondrous backing- something the band have had difficulty pulling off for some time since the Binaural period. The build up continues, captivating with the excellent Pendulum, another great exposé of the softer side of the band.
Engaging with the third and final act, again the band seem to take a more powerful play on their standard formula, culminating in a set of epics the band haven't written like in years. The softer sides of Sleeping by Myself and Yellow Moon map out a sentimentality the band haven't explored in a long time, with the epic Future Days closing it all out. For anybody who's had the pleasure of seeing the revitalized band play on this tour can comment on the quality of this track live. Its schtick is to be played live, sounding big and inspirational with the stamp 'made for stadium'. Of course that means the studio track sounds compromised and slightly unenjoyable by that factor, but when you witness the power of this track before your eyes you'll forgive it for its studio drawbacks.
The album doesn't go without its flaws, however. Like it was stated initially, this is a 'formula', so while it performs well by those standards, it would be nice to see the band shake up that formula a little more and maybe do something a little different. But as it stands, Lightning Bolt is a delightfully refreshing record from the '90s favourite whipping boys. Years of releases such as Backspacer and Avocado may have jaded a good deal of their fan-base, but giving this excellent effort a spin will remove any doubt you had this band could ever be relevant again.