"Lightning Bolt" begins with a downright Pearl Jam classic: "Getaway." The song has none of the distracting elements of latter Pearl Jam: no clunky vocals, bad lyrics or self-defeating breakdowns. It's just a wave of energy and Vedder's vocals are dynamic and earnest in the best way - the way that makes you believe in him rather than take note of errors.
The inspiration of the furious opener carries into "Mind Your Manners" and "My Father's Son." As a first single, "Manners" may not have had the wide appeal of "Worldwide Suicide," but with its wild verses and tight chorus, it's a good example of how much Pearl Jam can pack into a rock song and still make it work, all in less than three minutes. The psychological family drama of "My Father's Son" (dad rock?) recalls "Ten," but only in subject. The song is mostly a "Vitalogy"-style, angular rocker with a dominating bass line - one of Ament's best in recent memory.
And then comes the divisive first ballad, "Sirens," which is interesting if you give it a chance. Yes, it's a bit cheesy and yes, the dual vocals in the chorus take a little getting used to, but it's a good narrative about lying in bed with your daughter (and wife or only wife?), hearing sirens, thinking, "Thank God it's not us" and using that moment as a chance to reflect on the fragility of life. It's not Shakespeare, but it's nice.
Pearl Jam’s latest release is “Lightning Bolt.” Pictured above is frontman Eddie Vedder.
Of course, we get the "Into the Wild" acoustic treatment at least once with "Sleeping By Myself." A lot of fans are complaining because this song was originally released on Vedder's solo ukulele album. They decry it as an example of his egoism. But, in fact, producer Brendan O'Brien was the one who said he had to have it on this record. So, let's put that those ideas of Vedder forcing it in or of the band using it because of a lack of ideas to rest. It's very pretty and I have no problem with it being on here.
Ultimately, this is a very good rock album and it's far better than a band more than two decades into its career should be making. "Lightning Bolt" is head and shoulders above anything the band's contemporaries can pull off. Comparing this to Soundgarden's fatally confused "King Animal" or the mediocre sludge of Alice in Chains' "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here" is a joke. Pearl Jam is more vital and makes rock music that simultaneously has depth AND is fun, no easy feat. There's still no band that combines the energy of punk with the ambition of stadium rock better.