Pearl Jam – “Lightning Bolt”

(Photo Credit: antiquiet)

Grade: C-

Key Tracks: “Mind Your Manners” “My Father’s Son”

Just last week, I was driving when I did something I never do – I turned on the radio. One of Boston’s classic rock stations, WZLX, came on, and they were playing Pearl Jam’s “Daughter.” I can only imagine the meeting they held to determine whether or not early 90′s grunge acts now constitute as “classic rock,” but as someone who was three when that song came out, I’m uncomfortable with this progression. Now in 2013, Pearl Jam have released “Lightning Bolt,” and many critics are praising the album’s misalignment to today’s radio rock. But “classic rock” comes to mind, because it’s structured just like a classic rock album. And that’s really not a good thing.

Even bandwagon Pearl Jam fans know of Eddie Vedder’s punk attitude, much stronger than that of all his grunge peers. Their two most punk songs – 1994′s “Spin the Black Circle” and 2011′s non-album track “Ole,” have been completely upstaged by lead-off single “Mind Your Manners.” The rapid-fire song is almost like a lesson to punk bands, and serves as one of their best songs in years. But the album’s strict lack of any sort of narrative leaves the song out of place on the album. The first three tracks (including “Manners”) properly build the album up, and they’re all pretty decent songs, but the energy is completely killed by the ballad “Sirens.” Not only is the song extremely corny, but it stops the vibe the album gets into, and everything after it feels like disconnected songs. They put what they feel are the best songs at the beginning and fill the rest with the lesser tracks, with no sort of flow at all. It’s just like a classic rock album.

The band, of course, sounds great. They’re all great and diverse musicians. And Vedder’s growl-singing sounds as good now as it did in ’91. Even on the otherwise terrible “Sirens,” Vedder sounds phenomenal. One standout track is the eerily foreboding “My Father’s Son,” because of Vedder’s consistently strong lyricism. But they sound a little too comfortable. They’re not trying to prove anything, and the result is a bunch of bland and unrelated songs that aren’t anything original or memorable.

It’s actually a little tough to review this album, for two reasons. One, I’ve loved Pearl Jam for many years and I can’t stand saying anything bad about them, and two, I truly don’t remember this album even though I just listened to it two hours ago. It’s so uninspired that you come off only remembering the best and worst tracks. The first three and the ballad closer “Future Days” are worth the listen, “Sirens” is not, and everything in between is just dull and mid-tempo. It’s easy on the ears, especially for fans, but it’s instantly forgettable and dull, and its got a frustratingly  misleading name.

-By Andrew McNally

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