Ten studio albums. Ten. Pearl Jam are now as much of an institution as David Attenborough, but the Lord Governor of Africa on behalf of the British Empire (I think that’s Attenborough’s official title) has nowhere near the struggle for relevance on his hands that the Seattle rockers do. It’s been four years since their last album, and sadly the main thought reverberating around our heads in the wake of the release of Lightning Bolt is “why?”
‘Getaway’ gets the album off to an energetic start akin to being slapped in the face with a wet fish while Eddie Vedder jumps up and down on your chest and force-feeds you coffee out of an industrial-size oil drum. It’s a good song. The whole album is filled with good songs. ‘Sirens’ has a guitar solo that’ll set your soul on fire and ‘Mind Your Manners’ is dripping with classic Pearl Jam grungey disdain.
But the problem is the same one that all bands run into when they start becoming considered as ‘past masters’. Pearl Jam are supposed to be pioneers. In the 90s they were part of the Seattle grunge explosion that made the whole world take notice. Yes, Cobain hated them, but at least he cared. One can’t help feeling that if he were alive today, not only would he be making the finest, most progressive music on Earth, but he would also have completely lost interest in Pearl Jam.
It’s difficult to pick specific holes in an album like Lightning Bolt which is so obviously full of excellent musicality, and yet we’re still filled with the overwhelming desire to do so. They sound tired, they sound confused, and they sound old. Maybe this is unfair. Maybe it’s fine that Pearl Jam have produced another OK album that sounds the same as they always have, but probably not. Their success means they have to be held to a higher standard, and this standard has not been met.
The bottom line is, the fans will like Lightning Bolt, because it’s a perfectly decent album,but it’s nothing new. Pearl Jam are out of ideas.