Reevaluating Pearl Jam – Part Eleven: Lightning Bolt

Pearl Jam’s tenth record, Lightning Bolt, was released in October of 2013. I’m sure that some copies were sold, but by 2013 this had become meaningless.

Well… here we are. The last Pearl Jam studio LP that it is possible to write about. Until they release a new one, which is an inevitability.  But for now, this is the final Pearl Jam record and listening to it carries a certain feeling of relief for me. I’ve managed to chew through this band’s entire core catalogue, and I’ve even learned a thing or two.

Does Lightning Bolt have any lessons in store? Only my earholes can know for certain.

Getaway – Pearl Jam opens their tenth album by reminding everyone that they’re all around 50 now, so their default mode is dad-rock. This song isn’t a terrible rock song, but it definitely sits in a safe and tame pocket for its duration. The solo section feels perfunctory, like instrumental “rock band” clips that you might find on a stock audio sound effects CD. You can teach an old dog new tricks, but when you’re not looking, the dog is going to be over in the corner of the room practicing its oldest trick, probably. That trick is licking its own genitals, btw.

Mind Your Manners – One of my favourite Pearl Jam modes is when they try to throw down a little slab of garage-punk. They usually wear it well, and sound like they’re having a good time. This track isn’t the best example of this side of PJ, but it’s brisk and fun. Good barking by Eddervedder on the chorus. “Mind Your Manners” is just fine.

My Father’s Son – While I’ve often given a hard time to this band’s bass player, he does some great work here, laying down a dirty line that the song uses as it’s propulsive centre-piece. Some fun twists in the chorus and a solid Veddie makes for a totally worthwhile tune.

Sirens – Some great scientist will one day do a study that proves once and for all if it is impossible for a Pearl Jam album to avoid bringing in an acoustic guitar for the fourth song. I wish there was some way of checking to see if they’ve done this on every album, but my hands are tied. There’s no way of knowing. This song takes too long to do anything worth listening to, which is to say that this song plays for 5 minutes and 40 seconds and doesn’t do anything worth listening to.

Lightning Bolt – Now we’re cookin’ with … bolts. The album’s title track features a decently fun rock n’ roll chug and an ascending hook that works. A little too much “rock dad” guitar wankin’ for my taste. The band’s veteran fans are probably all shakin’ their spare tire to this jammer, though. So let those buds have their fun, I guess.

Infallible – Wow. This is a different approach for the Perp Jammers. The minor key bop on display during the verses here is reminiscent of a less muscular Queens of the Stone Age, whereas the chorus is … a more muscular “Champagne Supernova“. If this sounds interesting to you, you might make it through all seven hundred minutes of this song.

Pendulum – I applaud any PJ attempt to expand their sonic palate, but feel the duty to point out when it’s a failure. “Pendulum” is an interesting attempt at something, but doesn’t really work. It sounds like a band that had an idea of a direction to head in and either didn’t develop it enough or over-developed it and wound up lost. Cool keyboard sounds off the top, though.

Swallowed Whole – You know when you’re listening to an album and get to a song that just feels like a filler track and you wonder why they wouldn’t just make the album one song shorter? Surely Pearl Jam don’t get paid by the song. Wait. Do they? Did they get paid for that “Last Kiss” cover? Oh man, I hope not. Anyway, this song is like a years-old car air freshener. You don’t really notice it, but there’s the hint of something that might have once been potent.

Let The Records Play – Wow. Fuck this bee-bopping dad-rock horseshit.

Sleeping By Myself – The first true acoustic ballad of the record, and it’s reasonably pleasant. Great chord progressions. Kind of dorky. But come on. This is 50 year old Pearl Jam for fuck’s sake. I like this more than most of the other songs on the record. HAHAHA wait, Veddie just used the French “désastre“! Hahahahaha. You’re hilarious, Edvard.

Yellow Moon – The boys seem to be funneling the sleepy acoustic numbers to the back end of this album. Not the worst idea in the world, given that the album didn’t really establish a barn-burning vibe for this to trip up. “Yellow Moon” is pretty boring, though. I’m just realizing that I don’t love the way that this album sounds. The drums sound really far away and super-separated. Nothing sounds powerful in this mix. A great mix probably wouldn’t save this song for me, but I might at least have something nice to say.

Future Days – Another understated folk-rock track closes off the album (and PEARL JAM’S CAREER??!?!?!) . This is reasonably nice, but sounds more like a Vedler solo effort than anything else on Lightning Bolt. Very, very earnest Adult-Oriented Radio offering here. I wonder what people do at concerts these days when they want to pull out lighters, but then realize that they all just vape now?

Oh, right. They hold up their phones because we live in a dystopian nightmare.

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The Verdict:
This is the last Pearl Jam record that I have to listen to. Is it any good?

I mean… yeah. Overall, this record is fine. There are a couple of pretty good tracks. A lot of passable ones. Only a couple of bummers. For a bunch of aging rockers, it would be easy to expect a lot worse. I might even expect that an album like this could grow on a person and become a favourite.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that every time Pearl Jam have released an album in the last decade (especially for Lightning Bolt), the reviews are positive and people call it “a return to form”. This is annoying for two reasons. First, you can’t repeatedly return to form three or four times consecutively. That’s not a return to form. That’s adhering to form. Idiots. Second, this album sounds almost nothing like the early Pearl Jam records and it sounds everything like the last two or three Pearl Jam records. What are people even talking about?

In my Pearl Jam journey, I’ve come to the startling conclusion that latter-day Pearl Jam may be, in fact, a more consistent group than the Pearl Jam from the 1990s that set the world on fire. I’m not saying that they’re better, necessarily.

Or am I?

You can find out when I close off this series in the near future with MY FINAL REEVALUATION AND RANKING OF PEARL JAM’S ENTIRE CATALOGUE.

In the meantime, if you’re new to reading this series, I invite you to revisit all of the reviews thus far:

Reevaluating PEARL JAM – Part 1

Reevaluating PEARL JAM – Part 2: TEN

Reevaluating PEARL JAM Part 3: Vs

Reevaluating PEARL JAM Part 4: Vitalogy

Reevaluating PEARL JAM Part 5: No Code

Reevaluating PEARL JAM Part 6: Yield

Reevaluating PEARL JAM Part 7: Binaural

Reevaluating PEARL JAM Part 8 – Riot Act

Reevaluating PEARL JAM Part 9 – Self-titled/Avocado

Reevaluating Pearl Jam Part 10 – Backspacer

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