“DD Review: Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt.”

For whatever reason, Pearl Jam, in their theoretically tenuous post-Binaural days, seem bent on making records The Offspring should be making.
As a joke, a few days ago, I wrote on Facebook, “Yo, Ed Vedder, you gotta hook up Lightning Bolt for free.” And in fact, I half expected to actually get it. I wouldn’t put it past the guy, what with the band’s histrionics that include taking on Ticketmaster and releasing a never-ending string of bootlegs, most of which you can find for cheap or at the library.
Really though, they’re studio masters, which the drum sound on Lightning Bolt will assert. And the presence of Matt Cameron, and his Soundgarden roots, seems undoubtedly to play an artistic role here. Maybe the drummer is the primary advantage Pearl Jam has over the feeble, fumbling Offspring. The sense is palpable of the band’s pride in being impossible to categorize, the way The U-Men and Soundgarden were, the way much grassroots music in Pittsburgh is today, the way Pearl Jam circa Vs. would have been, if not for the invention of the word “grunge.” The element of the unpredictable still looms fairly large here, with things like phrasings and note intervals, and Mike McCready’s chops on guitar solos are more than credible, true to form. In this way, Pearl Jam retains their jam-band influence, which, strangely, serves them very well, because it’s manifest as something like folk, and in this, masculine, forging some headway of freedom and intense feeling. “Let the Records Play” might have the most amazing guitar intro I’ve ever heard. It’s totally trippy, like a slide guitar pumped through a Leslie Speaker or something, but the scale and intervals seem Keltic, like something very much off that middle segment of Icky Thump. Except, who’d have thought it, it’s Pearl Jam not taking themselves too seriously, making a 6/8 stomper breezy and fluid, and keeping the humor, using their studio dollars to produce an astounding guitar sound. The song’s fade-out, in lieu of a bombastic ending, only reinforces this ideal of updated jams with an approachable personality.
“Sleeping by Myself” reminds me of Mumford & Sons, artistically, which I find hilarious, because, Ugh, is that ever the style nowadays! It’s like a Mumford & Sons vaccination. No mumps for me! I got Lightning Bolt. And yes, this song has a guitar solo, it’s great, and Matt Cameron, though, you can tell, marching per orders for most of the sociologically contemporary boogie, shows delightful restraint, woozed out like he’s sitting in on “Overfloater” under 1990’s weed smoke all over again. It’s amazing how well he meshes with the band here, as Vedder is back to his introspective, egotistical form: “I’ll be sleepin’ by myself tonight.” And “Yellow Moon” plays out like a great hands-across-the-water swayer for the ladies, though it’s a little too much like “Low Light” on Yield to comment further on. Though thanks for the piano. The artistic cognizance is here, maybe more than ever.
And yes, just the fact that I’m comparing any song on this album to something on Yield should indicate that Lightning Bolt is a more than worthy collection addition for any ardent Pearl Jam follower. There’s something for fans of “Do the Evolution,” there’s something for fans of “Nothing as it Seems.” The closest I came to real disenchantment here was the dramatic, crooning “Pendulum,” which ends up bringing a crazily enjoyable surf-rock guitar solo, and then the corny innocuousness of “Swallowed Whole,” which then ends up offering phrasing unorthodoxies, and more sense that the band’s having just as much fun as they ever did.
It’s crazy that, at this rate, the next Pearl Jam album will come out in the year 2017. How much more sterile can our culture possibly get? If this trend continues, either way, I’d predict Vedder to react accordingly, maybe building on the tritone themes the band brings in on the biting “Mind Your Manners,” and continuing to get confrontational. Or, if there’s another terrorist attack and war, and we all start wearing tie-dye, you gotta like him to go take an acid trip up in the mountains and come down with another song like “Aye Davanita.” But maybe this is just a Pearl Jam fan blindly elaborating on the great unknown.

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