REVIEW: Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

Pearl Jam’s tenth album was never going to be a reggae or a dubstep record. Few bands have stuck to their original, traditional sound as firmly as they have. Then again, few bands have survived as long Pearl Jam have. The group continues to headline festivals and sell out arenas worldwide and they have outlasted almost all of their peers. The only question is, when you’ve reached your third decade as a band, how do you keep your fan’s interest in your new music alive, lest you fall into the nostalgia circuit?

For Pearl Jam, their answer seems to be just keep doing what you’ve always done but just make sure you do it really well. As on their last album, 2009’s “Backspacer”, Pearl Jam sounded energised and refreshed in a way that could teach many of their contemporaries a thing or two. On songs like “Mind Your Manners” and “Swallowed Whole”, the band play with a youthfulness that suggests, unlike late-period R.E.M, this is a band who still know how to enjoy themselves.

Few people write and perform with their hearts so on their sleeve as Eddie Vedder, and the likes of “Sirens” and “Sleeping By Myself” find him firmly in his wheelhouse of a grungy power ballad. Music such as this should sound dated in this day and age, but Pearl Jam perform with so much sincerity and so little cynicism, one can’t help but be swept up by them. This unashamed heartfeltness is perhaps what has kept them such a huge draw whereas so many others have fallen by the wayside.

However, the album is not without its flaws. Most will agree that the album’s first half is much more exciting than it’s second, with one song blending into the other. Pearl Jam have always had two kinds of songs: the ballad or the heavy-rock, and it takes only seconds to see what direction many of the songs are going in. As expected, the band spend little or no time outside their traditional rock comfort zone. Such familiarity, whilst durable, eventually becomes wearying. This repetitiveness almost makes one wish the band would try to experiment a little. Even a failed risk-taking would lend the album some much-needed diversity.

Still, this is a solid album that builds on the creative momentum Pearl Jam have built up over the last five years, and there are many songs here worthy of their early nineties peak. It would be so easy for the band to coast with an obligatory “will this do?” album to justify a cash-in world tour, and so it’s refreshing to see such a long-running band play with such energy and enthusiasm. Long may they continue.

Ryan Foynes

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