Of course, with all the activity around the PJ20 legacy-affirming celebrations, they have pretty much not been away, while they’ve all been busy with solo work or playing with bands like Brad or Soundgarden.
For that reason, these songs have been recorded over the space of three years, but with longtime producer Brendan O’Brien at the helm, it’s far from disjointed by its protracted and convoluted gestation.
Much like Backspacer, there’s some new wave influences here, amongst others, but mostly it’s the sound of a band who have been through the fire together and emerged confident and secure in who they are and what they do. And nobody does what they do better than they do it.
The first two singles from the album have shown what kind of thing to expect, with Mind Your Manners showing their (particularly Eddie Vedder‘s) punk leanings and Sirens being much more restrained, sounding anthemic without actually having an anthemic chorus.
Both are brilliant songs and fit right in on Lightning Bolt, which is more varied in style than Backspacer but still generally plays it safe. Pendulum is the most ‘out there’ track and I think it will take a while to settle in, though it’s certainly an intriguing one.
Another one that stands out is the bluesy Let The Records Play, which starts off with Mike McCready sounding like Ali Farke Toure and while it soon gets a bit more generic than that, it’s a fun tune and a new direction for them.
More familiar material works just fine on tracks like rollicking opener Getaway (one of the early highlights) and My Father’s Son (lyrically the stand-out for me so far, albeit a very familiar Vedder theme), while the title track has some of the catchiest riffing on the album.
Infallible is possibly my favourite track so far, one of the densest and most interesting-sounding, without losing its melody and urgency, while Yellow Moon and Swallowed Whole both fit into the category of songs that sound good and will probably get better with age (Unthought Known-style).
Like Backspacer, there’s room for some quiet Vedder songs that would fit nicely on his solo releases. Sleeping By Myself actually IS from one of his solo releases, but I like the full band version on here better, while Future Days does as good a job of closing things off as The End did last time out.
So, Lightning Bolt may not really stretch Pearl Jam in new directions too often and some fans (like here on Alternative Nation) will be disappointed by that, but my view is that after a couple of patchy albums (Riot Act and Pearl Jam) they’ve hit a good vein of form with the return of O’Brien.
Maybe they could have tried something new as a way of starting a new era after PJ20, but everything on Lightning Bolt works, which isn’t something you’ve always been able to say of them since the turn of the century and certainly isn’t something you can say of many bands when they reach their tenth album.