Pearl Jam brings honest rock
All the demons used to come round, Eddie Vedder sings in Future Days, the ballad that closes Lightning Bolt, Pearl Jams 10th studio album. Im grateful now theyve left. Well, not entirely: Pearl Jam still needs something to brood about.
Lightning Bolt is Pearl Jams current answer to the open question of how to create honest rock as a grown-up. The music that has made Pearl Jam an arena headliner for two decades is based on churning and seething, on Vedders mournfully forthright voice and on tensions that often explode into choruses of desperate affirmation. With songs about self-doubt, loss, abusive relationships and political fury, Pearl Jams members have prospered and settled down.
But complacency would undermine Pearl Jams music. So Vedder continues to ponder and agonize: this time, often, over mortality and faith. Go to Heaven, thats swell/ How you like your living in Hell?, he taunts in the punky Mind Your Manners. He warns humanity against arrogance and shortsightedness in Infallible, as the music hints at the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour. The eerie, gorgeous Pendulum suspends Vedders voice amid echoing keyboards and guitar as he sings about looming despair. But he also finds euphoria, a oneness with Nature and spirit, as major chords peal all around him in Swallowed Whole.
Lightning Bolt is not as raw or reckless as the music Pearl Jam made in the 1990s; it also trades away the rough-and-ready sound of Pearl Jams previous album, Backspacer from 2009.
Whether hes singing a ballad or a rocker, Vedder carefully outlines the melodies, no matter how worked up he gets (and he does). Even when the music goes hurtling forward, in hard-riffing songs such as Getaway, My Fathers Son and the albums peak, Lightning Bolt itself, what comes across is the teamwork of musicians who have been working in tandem for decades. Theyre grown-ups with fewer demons and more polish, but theyre still pushing themselves.
Jon Pareles/New York Times