Review Summary: The Seattle Grunge Rockers put forth a solid effort for their tenth studio album.
If Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder were a character in a TV series, he’d be a more relaxed, sarcastically literate version of the Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper – in awe of all that’s natural, perplexed by what the world has to offer, and often unable to understand the opinions of the less scientifically-appreciative majority.
Comparing rock stars to theoretical physicists (even fictitious ones) is an uncommon analogy, but perhaps that should change. Copernicus’ theory of heliocentrism is no less rebellious to the church than Johnny Rotten’s decision to write music that berates his own country, and Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is no less disaffected than Jim Morrison’s refusal to change the drug-alluded lyrics in “Light My Fire” on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1967.
Vedder continues the long-standing rock and roll tradition of sticking it to the man in Lightning Bolt’s opening track, “Getaway”. “Sometimes you find yourself having to put all your faith in no faith /mine is mine and yours won’t take its place,” the chorus belts.
Vedder makes it clear he’s not much of a believer when it comes to religion, or at least the church’s definition of it. Vedder elaborates upon his disbelief, displaying his Cooper-esque appreciation for science: “Science says we’re making love like the lizards / Try and say that fossils ain’t profound.”
The science vs. religion theme is one Pearl Jam is familiar with. Previous songs such as the 1998 single “Do the Evolution” off Yield, or “God’s Dice” from 2000′s Binaural also deal with the contentious subject. “Getaway” displays the maturity level expected for a group of men now in their 40s who are now more interested in the world around them than they are in themselves.
But with a snare hit and a guitar riff reminiscent of early 80s Dead Kennedys, we’re back to 1994 during the height of the grunge era for the album’s next track. The first single off the album, “Mind Your Manners”, is one that won’t win over any new fans for Pearl Jam, but will sure as hell be adored by their cult-like fans. A song about being fed up with the world and angry with those who are in charge of it, Lightning Bolt‘s second track sort of reminds you of an emotionally-distressed Occupy protester parading down Wall Street, shouting at amused banksters and hedge fund managers stories above him, who offer no sympathy to the protester’s cause.
Unfortunately, the throwback grunge-rock tirade fails to set a tone for the album, as the approaching songs offer a much different energy. The third track, “My Father’s Son” is when the album’s early energy begins to drop off. Written by bassist Jeff Ament, the song tells the story of a man’s emotional past — ruminating on his relationship with his “psychopathic” father. The next track, “Sirens”, is Pearl Jam’s attempt a Pink Floyd-esque power ballad. It’s a good try and far from terrible, but ultimately it fails to deliver and doesn’t really even sound like Pearl Jam (which is saying a lot about a band that has so many different sounds and styles).
Pearl Jam doesn’t exactly redeem itself with the album’s title track, “Lightning Bolt”, which reminds the listener of a less-catchy version Backspacer’s “The Fixer”. Jagged guitar riffs like mountaintops that cascade over plains of Matt Cameron’s rhythmic drum beats fill the bridge that connects the intro to the chorus, but the suspense it brings is rather anti-climactic, making it one of the more skippable tracks on the album.
Track number six, “Infallible”, brings the band out of its mid-album slump. Although it emphasizes Vedder’s shaky singing voice (which is noticeable throughout the album), it also provides a catchy sing-a-long chorus that will likely make the song better-suited for a live performance than its album recording.
The band does little of note in the next couple songs, but certainly picks things up in “Let the Records Play”, a bluesy garage-rock anthem great for bopping your head and tapping your toe to at a concert. The upbeat feeling continues with “Sleeping by Myself”, a short little acoustic diddy of a song you can’t not like. “Yellow Moon” reminds you a lot of Blind Melon, one of the most underrated bands of the 90s who wrote spacey lyrics that make you want to lay down in a field somewhere and stare at the stars. And who wouldn’t like that" “Future Days” concludes the album with another Blind Melon-ish type of song whose ending brilliantly fades the album out like a sun set.
“Future Days” wraps up an ending to the album that is just as strong as the beginning. Unfortunately, the filler that comprises the middle of the record prevents Lightning Bolt from being another Pearl Jam classic. And though Lightning Bolt falls short of masterpiece status, it’s still a solid outing from a band that — much like the colorful cast of The Big Bang Theory — leaves you curious and wanting more.