Paulelmo's Blog

Pearl Jam–Lightning Bolt–A Weekend Review

All right, gang, here’s the review I owe you. It’s actually the review I owe myself.

I don’t know, maybe there is someone out there who has read them all to this point–there have been nine–and who is actually pleased that I’m catching up with the week I missed. If that is the case with anyone, I don’t know of it. I’m actually the only person to whom I know for certain that I owe it.

I owe it to me, because I want write one of these a week and have 52 of them in a year’s time, and then so on. If someone ever wants to start publishing them, I’d certainly be open to the idea, but that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it firstly because I think it matters. I’m not saying that I think my opinion matters; rather, I think our doing it matters, our continuing the discussion, and our doing it matters because the music is important and deserves it.

Today’s review, of Pearl Jam’s Lightning Bolt, is my tenth review, and those ten reviews are of a list of ten albums that deserve to be remembered in any way. Here, my thoughts are not as important than the shared YouTube videos. I would rather you open the post and just listen to the music than open the post and just read the review. What I think or have to say about this album isn’t even a billionth as important as the music. My primary purpose here is to act as a pointer. I point and say, “There, that album…if that’s a genre you dig or maybe a band you’ve appreciated in the past, then I think this is a collection of songs that will make your life better or somehow more pleasant.”

I know this album does that for me. The band’s most recent release, from 2014, has proven to be my favorite album of new music in the last decade. (Some days I try to believe that of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Hypnotic Eye, since Tom recently died, but I just have to admit that this is the album that is stronger throughout.

First off, when we think of a band’s career, there’s seldom much like the first album or two. In many cases, if not most, those first couple of albums, when the band is young and hungry, give us a large portion of what is ultimately considered to be the band’s quintessential work. Such is the case with Pearl Jam.

Like so many early career albums, it’s easy to look at Ten, their first album from ’91, and say that the tracklist reads like a greatest hits package. Albums like that are easy to write about because I can list tracks and you know the songs. Look at Ten, I mention songs like “Even Flow,” “Black,” “Jeremy,” “Alive,” “Porch,” and “Garden,” and you have context, you know the songs. You nod your head and say things like “Oh,  yeah, that one.” (I can’t imagine people who don’t do that are reading.)

I don’t have that luxury with an album like Lightning Bolt; I’d be surprised if five people who read this have listened to the whole album. Average people who have their ears to a musical ground might recognize the title track or “Sirens,” or “Mind Your Manners,” but when it comes to when it comes to tracks like “Swallowed Whole,” “Yellow Moon,” and “Future Days,” you’ve got nothing. Still, there’s a whole lot more than nothing here.

Eddie Vedder once said that he kind of envisioned the band to be like Led Zeppelin, in that you don’t know what you’re going to get from song to song. And that’s true, the band’s third album, ’94’s Vitalogy being so like that that listening to it for the first time might make one wonder if he or she is schizophrenic–or if the band was.

That’s evident on Lightning Bolt. Here you have everything from metal to folk, from punk to surfer island music. in “Sirens,”  you even have the band’s first power ballad, and if you can find a better representation of this type of song let me know.

No this isn’t Ten or Vs.. The men who made this album aren’t 25 year-old rockers released to the roads to do their best Sabbath impersonation; rather, these are those same men in the late-40s and early-50s. They have survived success, failure, death, divorce, loss, gain, substances and the recovery from such, comprehensions of love and the coming of children, and the music and themes show the evidence of the growth from those experiences.

“Getaway” is one of the strongest opening numbers they’ve ever offered, and whether they go up or down, fast or slow, or hard or soft from there, it and the 11 tracks that follow are all good moments for contemplative thought and the study of sound.

Again, I don’t listen to many albums, but this is my favorite from the last ten years. It isn’t Uncle Freddy’s Pearl Jam, but it’s Pearl Jam nonetheless, and, despite the differences in the music the band’s making today and that of 25 years ago, it is all excellent music made by men who do just that, make music. Because that’s what this band does, they stay alive and they make music. So often when we think out of that angry young music that came out of Seattle a quarter of a century ago, we think of those who have died and the bands that are no more. Through it all, however, Pearl Jam has kept it together, kept themselves alive, and continued to make music and tour on a consistent basis.

This album shows that they deserve the respect for that. Thanks and kudos, gentlemen, and a sip of wine from the bottle.

  • A note on philosophy: No, This band’s philosophy doesn’t always line up with mine, but that’s ok; when I want philosophy, I go to church; this thing I’m taking from this is just the vibes.

 

The complete album doesn’t exist in a single file on YouTube, so here are a couple of what I think are the highlight tracks.

 

 

 

 

 

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