“Lightning Bolt” First Impressions

This is the first full Pearl Jam of the digital age not to leak online in advance of its release, so let’s all thank iTunes for streaming it legally in advance!  I heard several of these tracks in a partial leak a few weeks back but I always savor the first, complete listen of a new Pearl Jam album. Let’s dig in.

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Getaway: A nifty rocker that’s keeping in PJ’s tradition of up-tempo openers that thankfully helps wash away the ugly memories of Backspacer’s “Gonna See My Friend.”  I defy you not to start aggressively tapping your foot once the guitars kick in.  I just tapped a hole in my floor.  There also may have been some head-bobbing.

Mind Your Manners: For whatever reason, the “live-ish” version of this they debuted on YouTube a few weeks back sounds better than the album version.  This is a song that begs to be played fast, loud and dirty, sans any sign of polish…as long as Ed doesn’t try singing this one live after 20 beers and a couple bottles of wine.

My Father’s Son: Semi-bizarre surf-souding rocker.  Not sure how I feel about this one yet but it does have an “EFF YEAH!” moment or two I really enjoyed.

Sirens: I heard this a couple weeks back and my first reaction was somewhere South of “meh.” A few more listens has me thinking I’ll be blaring this in the car at top volume while singing my lungs out.   If you’re in the car next to me and see this, nod knowingly and never speak of it to anyone.  A power rock ballad of the first order.  I predict huge radio hit.

Lightning Bolt: Coming on the heels of “Sirens,” this feels like more of the same albeit up-tempo rock.  This feels very much like it could be at home on their last album, Backspacer, but there’s something more developed here.   Along with “Sirens,” I’m thinking this is the song most representative of Pearl Jam’s current state of mind and maturity; vocals and music tinged with the wisdom and experience of two decades of integral music.

Infallible:  Keyboards and wood block! There’ve been a small handful of PJ songs over the last decade that really made me sit up and say, “whoa!”upon a first listen, and this is one of them.  Although a few sections of the song are a touch too conventional for my taste, I love what they’ve done here overall.  Another song embodying a more mature sound.

Pendulum: Back to back “whoa’s!” I love different, and this isn’t a Pearl Jam I’ve heard much of before.  This song, more than any other to this point, begs repeat listens to capture everything going on.  “Ethereal” is an altogether appropriate adjective to describe a song I’m having trouble describing.

Swallowed Whole: A good track but one that highlights what Ed’s lost in terms of his voice.  I keep irrationally hoping against hope that we’ll get a whiff of Versus-era Ed but that ship has sailed long ago aboard the waves of cigarette smoke.

Let the Records Play: Another “whoa” when I first heard this a couple weeks ago; “jangly alt-country rock” is the moniker I’m going with here.  Another one I’ll be blasting in the car and singing loudly.  THAT BEING SAID, here’s an example of the crime of fading out a song too early.  This cries out for an extended Mike McCready solo outro.

Sleeping By Myself: This one’s getting murdered by other fans whose reviews I’ve read online; fans who love the Ed solo ukulele version he put out on his Ukulele Songs album a couple years ago.  Those lowered expectations perhaps helped me reserve my hate quota for government shutdowns and Miley Cyrus.  This is a nice, little ditty that–maybe–would’ve been better featured on another B-sides album.

Yellow Moon: I was ready to start ralphing the first few seconds but the band recovers nicely and, like “Pendulum,” this is one that begs additional listens.  Feels like a good companion piece to Backspacer’s “Unthought Known.”  Plenty of piano.

Future Days: Think “restrained Mumford & Sons but without the pretentious, repetitive lyrics.”  Not sure what I think of this one yet but it feels a bit like a more upbeat version of Backspacer’s altogether downer (albeit a good one) of a closer in “The End.”

All in all, I’m pretty happy after the first listen.  To have your favorite band still putting out good music two-plus decades into their existence is a gift.

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