Music

Pearl Jam: Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt is sure to rank among one of the high points of Pearl Jam’s discography, standing as an example of their ability to burrow down and hone all of their strengths to a fever pitch.


Pearl Jam

Lightning Bolt

Label: Monkeywrench / Republic
US release date: 2013-10-15
UK release date: 2013-10-14
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

While it’s trite to say that Pearl Jam are the elder statesmen of American alt-rock, such a banal description doesn’t make the assertion any less true. Love them or hate them — and there seems to be no room for indifference — it’s indisputable that they occupy a singular space in rock history, and with 10th studio album Lightning Bolt they secure their place in that upper echelon, rebounding after some divisive releases with one of the finest of their career.

Mostly gone are the New Wave and pop-leaning proclivities of predecessor Backspacer, that record’s punchy quality forsaken for back-to-basics rock and moodier, layered atmospherics. The record finds Pearl Jam comfortable in themselves again, assured in their legacy. If Backspacer marked the end of an identity crisis, Lightning Bolt is Pearl Jam thriving in their persona, building on what worked in the past without trying to copy it while adding new elements to the mix. “Mature” is a word one could level at them, and it fits, but the group understands the term as a verb, an ongoing process of change, rather than a finite noun. The hallmarks of Jeff Ament’s rumbling low-end and Stone Gossard’s structures remain as identifiable as ever, and the record overflows with Mike McCready’s animal-roaring solos, but showing the greatest continued progression is Eddie Vedder’s voice and the often overlooked contributions of keyboardist Boom Gaspar. The former’s vocals are more nuanced and supple than before, the warm timbre having an increased talent for evoking myriad moods, while the latter’s keys are what give some of the tunes their most memorable attribute (check out “Infallible”, a cut cautioning man’s hubris that goes from foreboding in the verses to hopeful in the chorus due largely to Gaspar’s textures).

The album is also laudable for being the group’s most balanced in its approach to optimism and pessimism. Some of the record’s darkest tunes — “My Father’s Son”, “Pendulum” and “Sleeping By Myself” — are tempered with some of its most comforting or downright fun in the title track, “Let the Records Play” and “Swallowed Whole”. Making it all the more compelling is that frequently it’s the same source inspiring such contradictory perceptions, specifically that of grappling with everything’s inherent impermanence. “Pendulum”, for instance is a somber tune haunted in its fatalism with an tonality rivaling classics “Indifference” and “Immortality”, Vedder delivering such lines as “We are here and then we go / My shadow left me long ago." Coming on its heels is the contrast of “Swallowed Whole”, a tune of joyous freedom where the calm makes drowning seem a welcome cap to a state of bliss. Some might say this duality indicates a lack of focus on Pearl Jam’s part, but more accurately, it simulates the oscillating moods of the human experience.

These opposing views attain synergy in “Sirens”, a ballad with a grandeur worthy of Pink Floyd or the Who. The tune is romantic but at times laced with a dread exemplified by the minor piano chords. Its narrative expresses this dichotomy as well, seemingly told from the point of view of a condemned man who finds a reason for living in the being of another and, in that, attains the peace necessary to face his forecasted demise. “I pull you close, so much to lose / Knowing that nothing lasts forever,” Vedder sings with acceptance and appreciation, rather than the fiery indignation he might have emoted in his younger days.

That said, “Sirens” does not denote an uncontested resignation; Pearl Jam still rocks plenty hard, albeit more with their riffs and hammering percussion than melodies. Opener “Getaway” is a lumbering mid-tempo chugger that builds to a sonic detonation with Vedder howling affirmations of individuality and the value of personal integrity. Single “Mind Your Manners” is one of the most aggressive punk tracks the band’s recorded in recent years, or ever, and “My Father’s Son” finds Vedder regaining some rage as he rails against genetic predisposition. The titular track is another in the band’s odes to surfing, and is similar to “Force of Nature” in its depicting a woman in mythical proportions comparable to natural elements, or vice versa.

The majority of the album’s slower cuts wrap the piece, which creates some unevenness, as the closing songs get monotonous in their united balladry. “Sleeping By Myself” is a superior reworking of a song from Vedder’s second solo LP, Ukulele Songs, losing none of its sensitivity in a full-band setting. “Yellow Moon” is *the record’s weakest track, a forgettable number that’s exclusion would have made the album stronger as a whole. Lightning Bolt does end on a high note, however, with “Future Days”, a rustic folk entry complete with aching violin and sparse piano notes. Cementing the theme of ephemerality, the tune has the aura of Mule Variations-era Tom Waits, feeling like watching a sunset from a rural porch late in life and choosing to cherish the relatively limited number of days left rather than bemoan their dwindling amount.

That Pearl Jam can craft such a fine record at this stage in their storied career is astounding. Years on, Lightning Bolt is sure to rank among one of the high points of the group’s discography, standing as an example of their ability to burrow down and hone all of their strengths to a fever pitch.

8
Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Books
Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Books

The American Robot: A Cultural History [By the Book]

In The American Robot, Dustin A. Abnet explores how robots have not only conceptually connected but literally embodied some of the most critical questions in modern culture, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 5 "Building the Slaves of Tomorrow", courtesy of University of Chicago Press.

Dustin A. Abnet
Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Music

Jazz's Kandace Springs Pays Tribute to 'The Women Who Raised Me'

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs tackles a dozen songs associated with her jazz vocal heroes, and the combination of simplicity and sincerity is winning.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.