The writing was on the wall with Riot Act, back in 2002, Pearl Jam flexing anger and social commentary in mantra, but swinging and missing the “Jeremy” rawness of their glory days like one of those dreams where you just can’t land a damn punch on forever repeat. 23 years they’ve held at least a few fingers on to the torch of one of arena rock’s most relevant flames, tossing piecemeal punk thrashes at government issues and off-pop grating Eddie Vedder balladry if you were a good fan and dug.
Lightning Bolt, the band’s tenth record, sounded like a promising re-grasp when “Mind Your Manners” snarled fiercely at organized religion. Likewise with opener “Getaway,” despite its “World Wide Suicide” ear-perks. But mish-moshed with some seriously tame dad-rock and Guitar Hero electric cheese riffs from Mike McCready, most of Vedder’s brood, even when clever, snide or tenderly soul-searching and paired with a ukelele, falls flat on its face, resulting in a series of flashes with no bang.
The melody packed a mightier half-bottle wino Vedder wallop behind “World Wide Suicide” back in 2006, but nevertheless shows some gumption here now in support of another electric stab at organized religion or whatever socio-political ketchup popsicle is trying to be sold to team PJ in white gloves: [LISTEN]
Paired w/ a blood-splattered image of a Glock and rosary beads on a dinner plate, PJ’s LP10 summon-the-powers-of-punk single assault is all oi-it wry smiles for those that dig some politics in their Vedder howls. Organized religion, it seems. Either way, the steam is brilliantly hot at band age 23: [LISTEN]
Eerily familiar of Vedder’s estranged relationship with his biological father, of which he chronicled in cathartic infamy via “Release” 22 years ago on Ten, the band phones this one in with some cheesy organ fills and a lame-ass ominous riff from McCready that seems made for a videogame boss fight:
Opposite the oi-its of “MYM,” Lightening Bolt‘s second taste goes for ballad broke, wrapping a dystopian siren metaphor around love everlasting, McCready in with the blazing rain solo on the back-end, as Vedder channels the “Better Man” that still hasn’t left him and puts the hurt on fear: [LISTEN]
Exactly the song you’d expect one of arena rock’s last fading bastions of 90s relevance to chase, the lightning from once they rode, again, not as aggressive and “rock and roll” as it could be, but stocked with feminizations of Mother Nature and a choice Vedder neck-vein pop or two where it counts:
Bottled with a slight of hand that’s starting to make sense on a moody record that should have been called ‘Rain Cloud’ or ‘Thunderstorm’, radio-friendly riff-rockage abounds on an otherwise tight government, relationship, artistic-skewering metaphor of the lovable shortcomings of mankind:
The downtempo hand-drummed crises of faith that splits this curious bolt of lightning in half has Vedder wrestling with the demons of self-deprecation, hovering over his knees muttering over where his shadow has gone and why he’s still cold in the midst of fire, while lady time laughs.
Should PJ grow some balls and exercise some of their inner punk, maybe this sentimental yin-yang wail wouldn’t a.) rehash what the title track does a decent job of chasing or b.) at least change its series of “could” affirmations into states of “ams.” “Until that day,” yes, “turn the page” quickly:
Morphing from an unsung hero blues stomp to an AOR cruiser, Vedder goes on about a man of the vinyl with a blistered thumb and bleeding heart. There may be “wisdom in his ways,” but by the time handclaps appear, your copy of “Spin The Black Circle” will be beating like The Tell-Tale Heart:
A cruel castaway from the Into the Wild/Ukelele Songs sessions, PJ join Vedder quickly with tambourines and sunshine riffage, but encroaching rejoice just leads to desolation row. Call it the lonely point. But ‘lightning bolt’, remember, they called the damn record ‘lightning bolt’, WTF dudes?
In a stretch of last-minute balladry, the acoustic howls break out for an ominous moon tale painted black with allusions to suicide, or death of some perceived value system, an “echo” of a “bullet unchained” joining Vedder’s brood and a steel-horse riff from McCready to pan across the landscape:
One of the last crusaders of relevant arena rock, blessed with more highs than lows than the average man PJ may be. And this is a beautiful piano-lulled orch-pop serenade to the one true blue thing that man can’t buy. Why PJ are PJ. But this is not PJ. This is “Come Back” gone “Dad Rock” soft: