By Brian Lynch
Iconic Seattle grunge band Pearl Jam released its tenth album since its formation in 1990 on Oct. 15. The album, entitled “Lightning Bolt,” neither harps nostalgically on the past nor presses on into new musical frontiers.
However, considering it came from one of the most revered bands of the last 25 years, an album that is true to the group’s ongoing style is nothing to scoff at.
Pearl Jam is truly a band that needs no introduction. Chances are high that if you are not at least vaguely familiar with its discography, you have been listening to the wrong music.
It would behoove you to remove yourself from the mind-numbing ubiquity of the computer-enhanced inanity that assaults your ears from every pop station and musical web service these days and buy yourself a rock ‘n’ roll CD.
Pearl Jam was formed in 1990 during the heyday of the grunge music scene in Seattle, Wash. It was surely not the first grunge band, although members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard were once part of both Green River and Mother Love Bone, two of the earliest well-remembered grunge bands not named Nirvana, Soundgarden or Alice in Chains.
However, Pearl Jam is inarguably the most enduring band of the era, having steadily pumped out quality records every one to four years since the release of its first album, “Ten,” in 1991. Hit Pearl Jam songs such as “Better Man,” “Jeremy,” “Alive,” “Even Flow” and “Black” have deservingly entered the pantheon of legendary rock tracks.
“Lightning Bolt” suffers from a lack of a unifying theme, for it was written piecemeal. Frontman Eddie Vedder wrote five songs individually and corresponded with guitarist Mike McCready on one. McCready also wrote one song himself, and the remaining five were written by bassist Jeff Ament and other guitarist Stone Gossard, either individually or cooperatively.
It is difficult to see this style as a weakness when every single song has a meaning that one could write an entire new album around.
Take, for instance, “Sirens,” the fourth song on the album. Vedder croons, “Here the sirens covering distance in the night/The sound echoing closer, will they come for me next time.” The twenty-three standard years that Pearl Jam has been around must equate to about ninety years in band time.
Recognizing this, “Sirens” examines the inevitable mortality of such an aged band. Make no mistake, though, they haven’t packed it in quite yet. Anyone under that misconception had best listen to “Mind Your Manners,” the album’s second song. This riotously energetic masterpiece includes all of the social disapproval and rambunctiousness of its earlier albums without the self-flagellation that grunge detractors despise.
Vedder sings, “The world’s no longer good enough/That makes me wanna cry/All along they’re sayin’/Mind your manners,” then, later, “Go to heaven/That’s swell/How do you like it/Livin’ hell.” In these few lines, Vedder essentially teaches listeners exactly what it means to be a grunge artist.
While modern pop music is defined by its conformity and copy-the-celebrity mentality, grunge attacks the inherently depressing aspects of life with rebelliousness and insubordination.
It is equally difficult to find a major flaw in “Lightning Bolt” as it is to find a point at which it truly wows. The album satisfies at every turn. I do not believe that any song on the album has the firepower to reach the stratospheric status of earlier smash hits like “Daughter” or “Elderly Woman.”
However, song after song delivers lyrics that are strong and meaningful, if not sensational.
McCready, Gossard, Ament and drummer Matt Cameron are as on-point as ever instrumentally. If you doubt it, listen to McCready’s glass-shattering solo towards the end of “Swallowed Whole,” or Cameron’s thumping drum line that kicks off Infallible. Although Pearl Jam may be able to hear the sirens in the distance, “Lightning Bolt” proves that they have plenty of electricity left.