Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt (2013)

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For all the indications of Pearl Jam’s gloomy nature, that’s never been the opinion of yours truly. It may tempting to consider a band whose repertoire features material sunk into the darker floorboards of life as cynical, but this slant has always been tempered with a strong sense of life as a graceful gift.

Having survived grunge only to come out as an arguably more robust force might’ve worn on a lesser band eventually, but Pearl Jam’s Lightning Bolt finds them vigorous and sensible as they settle neatly into their places as rock’s wary and somewhat elder statesmen.

Their tenth studio album is a ferocious and poignantly sweet result of bouts with Ticketmaster, heartbreaking experiences with loss, shrewd releases of their own bootlegs, and sights of a world that has come closer together superficially while drawing further apart meaningfully. With Lightning Bolt, Pearl Jam asserts that they still belong in such a place; their journey still matters and is still endures.

As most long-time fans of this band recognize, the primary purpose of a recording from Eddie Vedder and Co. is to offer a set of new songs to tour behind. The music, therefore, naturally lends itself to a rich opening-up process that sees the melodies expand and the emotions crystallize with additional listens. Put a better way: live performances of these songs will fucking kick ass.

Matt Cameron’s drums drive “Getaway” into focus and the band gathers round, with guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready digging in. Of special note is Jeff Ament’s bass-playing, which lays down a funky-ass groove that offers Vedder’s vocals a roadmap. His often-imitated voice sails through lyrics about religion and belief, but he stops short of sneering and repeats an “It’s alright/It’s okay” motif.

Lightning Bolt’s first single, “Mind Your Manners,” launches from the feedback of “Getaway” and kicks things up a notch with a punk-inspired gait. This time, Vedder is more indignant. The curt tune feels like a relative of Yield’s “Do the Evolution,” even if it does run at nearly twice the speed.

The title track runs quick but expansive and sounds triumphant with touches from Boom Gaspar’s keys punching in all the right places. There’s also the rock-and-roll swing of “Let the Records Play,” which is a roadhouse-ready joint that bristles with a scorching McCready solo.

While scaling more sensitive heights, Pearl Jam offers the beautiful “Sirens.” The piece showcases Vedder’s falsetto, which is tinged with weakness in the full glow of the song’s subject. “It’s a fragile thing, this life we lead,” he sings before nodding at the “grace by which we live.” Once again, McCready kills with a resonant, gorgeously spaced solo.

“Infallible” is another of Lightning Bolt’s gems. It enters like a truck passing on the highway and pounds forward with Cameron’s snare and Ament’s murky bass. Before things recede into the gloom, however, Pearl Jam pulls into the light and sings out a song to wondrous ambiguity.

By the time the final notes of the superb “Future Days” fade with Gaspar’s piano dipping from range, Lightning Bolt has settled as a record from a band still circumspectly examining the world around them and still ready to endure where others may have bowed out. Life is indeed a graceful gift and this is a graceful album to help chart the course, even if for just a little while.

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Jordan Richardson

Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and ne'er-do-well. He also contributes to his own Canadian Cinephile and Canadian Audiophile websites. Contact Something Else! Reviews at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
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