Pearl Jam Lightning Bolt Review – Song by Song, A life long fans Perspective

Ok, so like the last time I feel I need to start this review by admitting Pearl Jam is my favourite band. That might not even adequately describe how I feel about them. They’ve been a part of my life for over 20 years. They’ve helped shape my opinions and taste in music and when the day Pearl Jam ends is the day I will feel like I lost a family member. Crazy I know, but no less true. I admit that I was even once a Pearl Jam fan that thought they could do know wrong. Though my love for them has not diminished, it has matured from “never see a fault” love to loving them despite their imperfection. 

Unlike my review of Backspacer I have had the privilege of hearing this album. With the online streaming a week before launch PJ gave many of us the opportunity to listen to it early. Though some other fancluber’s received their pre-order early, living up in the boonies sometimes has its drawbacks, and fanclub merchandise shipments seem to take forever up here (Saskatoon).  Anyway, I’ve heard the album and a few singles on the radio. At first I will admit I hated the production. It was so clean.. I miss the raw passion that was translated in their former recorded style.  I figured with age they would slowly lose the raw aggression and passion they once had and could feel on the records. Eddie’s voice will no longer crack as his vocal chords gain some more nodules (in Blood). Don’t get me wrong, their passion hasn’t disappeared, it’s just morphed from unadulterated angst into experience and wisdom. They aren’t young men anymore trying to prove a point. They are men, changed by the love they feel for and receive from others. The sound on this new album is mature. I love that they are working with Brendan O’Brien again (though it’s nothing like their past work with him) and really loved how the album was put together as a package. So with that said, here my song by song review. 

Getaway:

I’m not sure I’m a fan of Cameron’s snare… Anyway, I like the tempo of the groove. Ament gives a great tone to this song. His bass run in the verse is really cool with Ed’s melody.  The prechorus is decent, and the chorus actually feels like a typical Pearl Jam the bridge. It builds nice and really climaxes like a chorus should. The Guitar solo fits the song and the come back to the chorus is sweet. It’s a nice touch to change up the bass line and guitar parts slightly on the repeat (like the last verse in In My Tree). The screaming guitar tone at the end fits the aggression of the song well. 

Mind Your Manners:

The production is so clean. The tone of the guitars is so crisp and crunchy. Anyway, the opening riff sounds like a System of the Down kind of thing, then the verse melody is like a punk rock thing which takes it directly into the chorus that is a nice punk rock riff and melody. Then the bridge changes to a pop rock melody that some how doesn’t feel soft. I could probably do without the full cut out on this track.. Maybe keep it for the live show but it feels strange. Just my taste but honestly the song is put together like a masterpiece… Not much negative to say.

My Father’s Son:

Great transition from MYM… And the bass line is unreal! Eddie’s melody is instantly interesting…And the story he tells lyrically are always brilliant. I love the space the guitars give the verses. It’s really Ament’s song, and the bass line really works well with Eddie’s melody.. Every time I hear the verse I love it. The breakdown bridge is brilliant. What a conflict with the aggressive bass line earlier. Great lead into last verse as well. Eddie’s so great in this song. His voice’s tone is awesome, actually reminiscent of Evolution. Great rock song! 

Sirens: 

Inspired by Pink Floyd and you hear it. Honestly the first time I heard this song I thought it was soulless.. It just felt blah.  A couple listens in though I got it. It just all of the sudden became a beautiful rock ballad. Eddie’s lyrics are passionate and incredible. I wish I thought of some of the things he says in it, or at least my wife probably does. He is a brilliant poet. McCready really has improved in his writing with experience.  The prechorus is shots at first seemed lame but once you get the whole picture it’s a great build to Eddie going up a bit in his melody. Eddie’s melody is beautiful and then McCready’s solo is almost haunting.. Mike nails its for sure. Starts like a rock solo, then a bit Pink Floydy, then it ends like a Bon Jovi solo. Ha. Anyway, it fits it well. All in all a beautiful soul filled song that I’ll always turn up when it comes on the radio. 

Lightning Bolt: 

This song instantly reminds me of Unthought Known. I heard this in Wrigley Field and I thought it didn’t really translate well live. But fast songs are hard to get for the first time live, let alone in a huge venue. McCready sounds great in it and Stone’s chords in the background are crazy, Stone always adds cool chords. The piano’s melody is alright…I’m just not sure I’m crazy about the chorus. It even breaks down like Unthought Known eventually. I like the verse melody a lot and think that would be great live.. I’m just not sure I bite on the chorus. I like the instrumental at the end. Some really nice chords with some really dirty ones. And Matt’s tom work sounds cool in it. The piano is great as well in the instrumental. The end of the song and the verse are really all that song needs. The end really shows the bands talent and live feel. They should have done a chorusless version of this like Hero’s (Bowie). 

Infallible: 

Interesting intro. I like the walkdown riff right before Ed comes in with the melody, which I must say I like. And I like Stone’s guitar part in the verse, and the bass line is simple but perfect. The chorus sneaks up on you in this one, and I really like that. I’m expecting a brilliant bridge.. But when the chorus keeps going a little longer than I thought it would I it builds nicely. I really like the verse instrumentation. I can picture boom bobbing his head to this on stage. The second time you hear the prechorus it builds it more than the first time to me, or maybe I was just so interested in the verse the first time I didn’t notice, either way a great sign. The chorus builds really well, and turns into something really energetic. The instrumental bridge and guitar solo is cool, interesting and fits perfectly. It’s a nice transition with vocal parts in the back that builds back nicely into the chorus. I’m surprised I like this song this much…3 guitars gives some cool sounds and space for a nice outro. 

Pendulum: 

They’ve been opening with this on this tour.. Not sure what’s happening with Eddie’s melody and the guitar part…Whoa, the drums don’t help me figure out what’s happening either when they come in. I’m probably being a bit harsh. It does make sense I guess. The drums production sounds really reverby. Not sure I like this as an opener for a show. It almost sounds like it’s meant to be on a soundtrack, like it’s not a full song or something. Mike’s guitar solo sounds like it’s narrating a gun fit draw in the old west. The whole song feels like it’s building, but nothing really happens. I can appreciate all the parts as a musician, not sure I like them. I do like the bass in the song, but seriously this as an opener?? I hope I come back to this song and love it one day but right now I’m just not really interested, it’s like a background song. Matt Cameron is doing some cool stuff, but seriously don’t open with this please. (P.S. I listened to it again because I felt like it was the hole in the album…I think I like it now but this song is still the worst thing on the album. I’ll be curious to see how it translates live) 

Swallowed Whole:

The beginning of the verse isn’t that interesting in terms of Ed’s melody but the tail end of it is cool when he does a little vocal run repeating the last word. The guitar part in the beginning sounds like a 70’s rock song. The chorus is barely one. You don’t even know you’re listening to the chorus until it ends. Ok, well I like the verses a lot when Eddie brings it up a notch after the first “chorus”. Which now makes me appreciate the first bit more. The chorus is strange though, it actually dies down from the verse. The Bridge is cool. It starts with a break down and slowly builds like the whole songs seems to do. I like the feel of the bridge, kind of poppy, then into a great instrumental. The solo is great, and I’m wondering is the verse the chorus?? I like it a lot and they go into the verse from the bridge, but then nope, they go back into the chorus.. Interesting ending. 

Let the Records Play: 

Reminds me instantly of Nobody’s Fault but Mine by Zeppelin. Then it turns into a really dirty blues rock. I like Ed’s melody against the blues riff’s, and I like how he copies the guitar before the chorus. And the chorus turns into a pop rock song that would fit in the 60’s almost, or in the musical Grease. I actually really like it. This song as a full package is brilliant. The Bridge is so good. Instantly you dig it. I love the vocal and instruments walk down and shots. Ed’s melody is awesome in it as well. Then out of nowhere a crazy guitar part and solo. I’m looking forward to hearing this live! I love the cut out in this one and instrumental outro.

Sleeping By Myself:

So I love Ed’s ukulele album so to see this on here is interesting. I like this version/interpretation. An acoustic guitar around a fire type of song, kind of country actually.  The lyrics are really great and well put together. Ed’s a poet always. His own harmonies are impressive and sound awesome. And the added instrumental is a cool addition. Considering it’s hard enough to write a song once, it’s cool to see he did it twice and I like this version. Even though it’s simple, it really shows the bands diversity. 

Yellow Moon:

The beginning you can just feel a story coming on.. With Eddie’s humming start to the verse. I like the B3 organ in the back. The Chorus is really out of nowhere but I love it. The time signature is interesting.. It feel likes it switches every bar between 6/8 and 5/8 in the verse, but 6/8 for the rest of the song. 6/8 usually allows for cool melodies.. The back and fourth time signatures in the verse sounds cool though. The bridge doesn’t really stand out as a massive builder but it builds into the chorus well. Then Mike ends up doing a solo to two different time signatures. It’s cool to see them try out different things like that. That’s definitely one thing (of the many) Matt Cameron has brought to the table.

Future Days:

I saw this one in Wrigley as well. Brandon O’Brien plays the piano part at the beginning. His walk down piano chords, similar in feel to the Cheers piano song part is nice and it drops off to just Eddie and his acoustic. Eddie’s lyrics are beautiful. His love songs are some of the best out there. The organ sound and shimmer in the chorus is really cool too. Violin in the intro to the second verse is a nice touch. Ed’s melody is really nice and warm. It’s nice how he plays off his melody with his acoustic melody. The bridge comes in again with a strong piano part and builds substantially even in its minimalism. One thing about Pearl Jam is the last song on each album has always been a great ending piece. It feels like it’s the last song. It’s a beautiful way to end the album.

 Overall Review:

Overall this album is really put together. Matt Cameron seems to play with an intention to be different from any past recordings. Stone’s guitar parts are subtle yet beautiful. His riffs always counter something else in the song and he has been brilliant since the beginning. Ament’s bass lines are aggressive when they need to be all the while holding the many different perspectives of each musician in the band together. To me Ament makes the album make sense. McCready really brings his A-game to this album. When I first heard the solo’s in Mind Your Manners I knew it was going to be a great album for him. He has some classic in the box solo’s but really branches out in this album. He’s guitar is a like a voice adding emotion to every track with its melody. And of course Ed.. They are all getting older but I love that emotion and energy displayed on Lightning Bolt. Eddie’s melodies are fantastic, almost “infallible”. His lyrics are poems and poetic stories. Eddie nails it on this album. Jeff brings all the music parts together, but Eddie is the keystone keeping the songs together. Lightning Bolt will be a classic album, much like No Code in my opinion. The albums starts and ends strong, the middle has some moments but I’m hoping they grow on me. This album is an easy 9 out of 10

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