Ten albums into their career, Pearl Jam have wisely moved past the grunge sound they spearheaded, becoming a more rounded rock band. Over the past few albums, they’ve been almost too cosily staying within their self-imposed confines. When a band gets to this stage in the mainstream, they can end up being a parody of what they initially set out to become. This could have been exacerbated by the fact Eddie Vedder’s previous solo album was a collection of ukulele songs. Indeed, one of the songs on ‘Lightning Bolt’, Sleeping By Myself, was recorded by Vedder for his solo album.
Bearing this in mind, fears are put on hold by album opener Getaway which races out of the blocks as an affirmation that the band still believe they’ve got what it takes, especially with Vedder intoning “It’s all right, I got my own way to believe”. That’s great Eddie, but the question is whether the rest of us believe it too?
Thematically ‘Lightning Bolt’ is quite introspective with Vedder singing “I could choose a path, I could choose the word, I can start the healing” on Swallowed Whole and“I’ve been down and I fell so hard and far from grace” on Let The Record Play. But there is little lyrical evolution here from as far back as ‘Riot Act’.
While Mind Your Manners adds zip with its choppy riff and Infallible is engaging with its mid tempo swaying melodies, musically ‘Lightning Bolt’ is far too safe. There is no denying; ‘Lightning Bolt’ opens with a bang, and there is nothing over its duration that’s offending to the ears. Yet after such an invigorating start, it tails off.
Songs like Sirens, Yellow Moon, Pendulum and Lightning Bolt plod along innocuously. The sentimental and earnest ballad Future Days concludes the album and illustrates perfectly that Pearl Jam still need to break free from the shackles of their comfort zone. There may be some solace to find here for die-hard Pearl Jam fans; but, for the average music fan ‘Lightning Bolt’ may resemble being on hold to a call centre as the world passes slowly by. If ‘Lightning Bolt’ was a packet of biscuits it would be Rich Tea, only without the cup of tea to go with it.