It’s hard to believe it’s been 22 years since the release of Pearl Jam‘s first album, Ten, in 1991, as the band “rose from the ashes” of Mother Love Bone after the sudden death of lead vocalist, Andrew Wood. Two decades. For some of us, a lifetime.
Whether you’re a longtime listener or a newcomer, the appearance of their newest album, Lightning Bolt, was a highly-anticipated event. Known for their mastery of the 90s grunge sound, it probably comes as a surprise too that soft rock dominates their new album. While the second track, “Mind Your Manners,” is characterized by the fast-paced rock that Pearl Jam is known for, it seems the band has mellowed with time. The calmer, soulful guitar and slower tempos of “Sirens” and the guitar and drum combination of “Getaway” are more akin to bands like Pink Floyd and Daughtry than their earlier grunge rival, Nirvana.
Eddie Vedder’s vocals have also matured, making Pearl Jam sound less like a 90s grunge band struggling to break away from the mainstream and more like the impassioned 80s rock bands that preceded them. Lightning Bolt is less of an experiment in new technique than a nod to the musical styles that inspired the band’s creation more than two decades ago.
However, the album falls a little flat after “Sirens,” as Pearl Jam repeats the same mellow beats in several more tracks, such as “Pendulum,” “Sleeping By Myself” and “Yellow Moon.” While each song could easily stand on its own as a strong single, when grouped together onto one album, the similar anatomy of each piece serves to undermine, rather than support, Pearl Jam’s attempt to pay homage to their musical roots.
“Mind Your Manners,” inspired by the work of the Dead Kennedys, contrasts sharply with the rest of album. Its backbone of quick, thudding guitar and powerful drums hardly jives at all with the mellower tone of “Sirens.” Placed next to each other, it’s almost like two different bands produced them. However, the track does break up the monotony that slightly bogs down the rest of the album.
Lightning Bolt is a solid album that certainly pays tribute to the band’s predecessors and inspirations but, to all you 90s kids out there, don’t expect a repeat of the grunge age. Pearl Jam’s done a bit of growing up in the last 20 years, so expect not so much a newer sound as a more mature one. They aren’t the new kids on the block anymore, but they’ve done a great job thanking their musical ’rents for all they’ve done.
3 out of 5 stars