Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

pearljamlightningbolt

Monkeywrench Records

Review by Rick Ossian

On the first listen or three one may be tempted to lump this riff fest of a record in with their earlier works.  That would be a mistake!  Though it would not be totally incorrect.  Vocally,  I was transported back in time on more than one occasion.  Eddie reminded me of Vs. and even Ten days on a couple of tracks.  His particular delivery is that rare enigma in the rock word; his is a voice like no other.  The urgency of his quavering, almost jittery pseudo-vibrato, if you will, puts Vedder in that rare category of vocalists that I deem ‘my faves’.  Among them are Freddie Mercury, Phil Lynott, Percy, you know the lot.  Some fairly heady company, you might say.  Perhaps.  He also surrounds himself with exquisite players.  The solos, the rhythms, the riffs, everything here is just as good as most of the stuff that passes for ‘music’ on the regular AM/FM/TV avenues.  I’d even wager to say that it is better.  And while the shouts of ‘oh yeah’ may occasionally wear on us,  for the most part we wear Vedder like he is a comfortable glove.  We know him, we are used to him.  But enough of my gushing over the singer!

Getaway is the lead-off track here (depending on when/from whom/where you get your copy; evidently Mind Your Manners explodes from some versions first!), and is a relentless diatribe apparently against anything that may get in your way of a vacation.  I get the feeling Vedder is targeting the press as well (‘everyone’s a critic lookin’ back up the river).  There is a palpable sense of wanting to taste artistic freedom here as well.  I thank the gods every day that we didn’t lose any of these cats yet (unless you count Andrew Wood from Mother Love Bone) like we lost Kurt.  That would have indeed been tragic.  There is such passion here, but lift-off is yet to come!

Mind Your Manners is a flat-out punk rock party.  I found myself with toes tapping and head bobbing along as I indulged in an extra listen with that particular track.  My Father’s Son possesses one of the funkiest bass lines I’ve heard in some time.  Kudos to Jeff Ament for rising above instead of just remaining in the background like some bassists may tend towards.  It is another more uptempo number, almost chaotic rock, with Vedder’s relentless attack just on the edge of the instruments.  He is by turns pensive, menacing, you name it – he is singing it here for us, and without fail pulling it off with a hero’s aplomb.

Sirens is mellower fair, but nonetheless absolutely powerful.  A tasty guitar solo comes in about halfway, and is by turns accompanied by beautiful piano runs.  Check out the phase-shifting on the guitar.  I bet that’s Mike McCready doing that!  If it’s Stone Gossard, I suppose I wouldn’t be surprised.  They are both peerless, decidedly talented craftsmen from one track to the next.

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Lightning Bolt, the title track, is full of kinetic energy, and takes us back a notch or two, almost as if we were on a rollercoaster ride to musical nirvana.  It has more of a classic rock feel than the other tunes here.  Infallible is more like a workhorse exercise in ‘regular’ rock.  The vocals can be a bit creepy,  I was almost reminded of the music from the old TV show, the Munsters (if you can imagine a quasi-Rob Zombie feel, then).

Pendulum brings to mind many words that may describe it, but I have to go with ghostly or creepy again first off.  You will practically be afraid of this bluesy paean to the pendulum.  The lyrics made me wonder (to and fro, easy come, easy go) at first, then the music almost lulled me into a different phase of consciousness.  They sucked me in – this song IS a pendulum!  There is a piercing, desert sky blues sort of a guitar solo contained in this one as well.

Swallowed Whole features an intense vocal.  The drums excel as well, and there is a wailing lead guitar solo!  What more could one want?  Let the Records Play is another sort of creepy blues stomper.  It almost lumbers (the beat, that is) until we get to the drum/guitar workout towards the end.  Vedder even advises us to ‘let the drummers drums take (us) away’, which Matt Cameron does time and time again on this disc with some rapid-fire drumwork.

Sleeping By Myself, on the other hand, is a different sort of animal.  It is, at times, quasi-folk rock.  Remember Eddie Vedder recently did an entire album of acoustic numbers.  Mayhap this was a leftover?  It is, at its best moments, a sort of meandering train song, going from stop to stop.  Yellow Moon (on the rise) is, undoubtedly, a tribute to Neil Young’s track, ‘Helpless‘.  It is also a seductive, gorgeous piece of music, with a lovely piano bit and a wicked but short guitar solo.   The ‘moon changin’ shape and shade’ and the bit about ‘one could feel the earth vibrate’ also rings indelibly of Young’s earlier work.

Future Days is sort of a fade-out, if you will.  It is, again, introspective, even serene or poignant at times.  The piano and the strumming guitar could even be envisioned as a bookend of sorts.  Vedder again outdoes himself, as do the rest of the congregation, and turn in a reflective beauty that could probably have just as easily ended up on the cutting room floor (thank goodness it didn’t), as it doesn’t truly fit with the rest of the stuff here.  Rest assured, it is good – just a surprise ending is all!  Top marks from beginning to end.

Rating: *****/5

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