Listening to a Pearl Jam album is like picking up a childhood friend from the airport. Almost all of your other friends from the glorious 90s grunge era have self-imploded — Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Candlebox, they all came into our lives, taught us the true impact of amazing music, then either left when you needed them most or became gross caricatures of their past. But Pearl Jam, they stuck around for the long haul, a solid 22-year relationship, and with their 10th studio album Lightening Bolt they are saying: “This is why we’re still friends.”
The album opens with Getaway which brings vicious pace to it and the first single off the record Mind Your Manners hits the ground running. The Bay Area post-punk influences are channeled through Eddie Vedder’s vocals, while Mike McCready’s guitar solo just leaves you completely floored. It’s not like his fretwork on Alive, but is equally effective in a quarter of the length.
Sirens is perhaps the song that makes the album — a classic rock power-ballad of soaring proportions with a poignant settling feel. It is the song during which most concert attendees have to make that decision: “Do I simply wave my cell-phone around? Or do I use it to send a text I will regret tomorrow?” Vedder pleads for the hope of lasting love in the face of his own mortality, the sound of ambulances reminding him of inevitable separation. McCready’s guitar solo is Vedder’s shoulder to cry on, a sad sort of optimism that would not seem out of place if you had heard it on The Wall.
Other attention-grabbing numbers include the developed sound of Infallible and the chief opener of the current tour Pendulum which would be a delight to fans who loved Black.
In this album, more apparent than on other records you notice a changing trend in the band’s music. The twin guitar musical partnership of McCready and Stone Gossard seems to give a little room for a vocal/guitar partnership between Vedder and McCready. This is most evident in Yellow Moon, a song credited to bassist Jeff Ament.
Pearl Jam is often criticised for being too comfortable with its sound and failing to explore new avenues. There’s a scene in the documentary PJ20, in which guitarist Stone Gossard is asked to show some PJ memorabilia he might have collected over the years. After searching the house and finding nothing, the cameras are led into his dark basement, filled mostly with junk and much to the guitarist’s amusement, a dusty, forgotten Grammy which the band had won in 1996 for Best Hard Rock Performance. During the acceptance speech Vedder had famously declared “I dont know what this means. I don’t think it means anything.” Accolades and criticism hold the same amount of water in Pearl Jam’s world. For them, it is just about making good music and with Lightning Bolt, they drive the point home once again.
Fyez Ahmed is a Dubai-based writer.
He tweets @fyezeatscake
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 23rd, 2014.
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