Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pearl Jam's Lightning Bolt

I did it for Backspacer, so I figured I'd do it for Lightning Bolt as well... a track-by-track critique of Pearl Jam's record, due out today.


First off, what a generic fucking album title. ''Will it be electric? Will it hit you like a lightning bolt?'' Also, after pulling the ''eponymous album'' on their eighth in 2006, they now give us their first with a record named after one of its songs. On their tenth album. I'm expecting a re-hash of Hotel California on the next one...

Getaway is a good lead-off track, with its 70s/Kiss vibe (complete with drums-and-vocals breakdown), reminiscent of Backspacer's Johnny Guitar. 8/10

Mind Your Manners was the first single and video, and it sounds like a lot of PJ's ''rockers'', notably those with hardcore-punk-inspired vocal melodies (Blood, Comatose), with the bridge bringing a softer break. It's ok, but not great. Could use louder guitars to match the intensity. 6.5/10

My Father's Son has decent musical ideas, particularly the Caribbean-like bass lines, but the guitar seriously lacks balls - distortion and low ends. As they are, they leave the (angry) vocals to defend themselves and don't utter a syllable to help out. Could have been at least two points better with decent sound. 6.5/10

I've already commented on Sirens when I featured the video a few days ago, but I'll reiterate: good power ballad that could have used better lyrics (as in not ''can you hear the sirens'' three times to start the song off). But I'll be glad to hear it live if it replaces the overplayed Daugther and Small Town, maybe even Betterman. 7.5/10

As a title track, Lightning Bolt is far from a standout. It's not terrible, but also suffers from poor production: it seems the second verse's guitars don't come in as strongly as they do the first time around, though you'd think they'd want to increase the intensity. Also, keeping in mind Wishlist and Unthought Known, it's beginning to be a theme to have songs that start with (and also have a middle part with) muted guitar notes. I say ''theme'' because I'm trying hard not to say ''schtick''. 6.5/10

The sixth song of the album is called Infallible, which I'm guessing was ironic, because it actually proves PJ to be anything but. You know when you hear a Soundgarden song and think to yourself ''it's ok, but it sounds like a Pearl Jam knock-off''? Well, this sounds like Pearl Jam imitating Soundgarden channeling Pearl Jam. Fitting, then, that at 2:15, Eddie Vedder would sing: ''You think we've been here before / You are mistaken''. It's an honest mistake, really, and you won't be the first to make it. 5/10

Pendulum. Oh, what promise, with a drum beat that wouldn't have been out of place on No Code (or close to Radiohead's There There, for you non-PJ fans). The guitar playing is subdued, restrained, efficient; it would have been a really good number if not for the damned ''ah-ah-ah-ah-ahs'' punctuating the final minute-and-a-half - really, there wasn't a 5-syllable sentence they could have repeated instead of fucking ''ahs'', even something as simple as ''time just passes by'', or ''here I am to die'', or ''I'm going back to bed''... 7/10

Swallowed Whole isn't a bad song, it's well-written enough, seems like one of the band's classic mid-tempo rockers, except it sounds like shit. This song is a testament that the band needs outside help at a producing level (and should take Brendan O'Brien's studio key away or change the locks altogether). The guitars sound like they're played through a 1940s AM radio and Vedder's voice is way too loud in the mix - and he's singing slightly off-key in a burning-my-ears kind of way, like when 20 years of people complimenting his awesome voice gets to his head and he starts to think every sound coming out of his mouth is gold. 6/10

And now it's time for the most painful track of all: Let the Records Play. Let's concentrate on the music first: a classic blues-boogie, it sounds pretty much like Rob Zombie's Pussy Liquor - or the theme from True Blood (a.k.a. Bad Things by Jace Everett)... with their balls taken out, the scrotum following suit, and the dick falling off as well. And when you've emasculated the shit out of a song, might as well throw some classic rock lyrics à la Kiss/Bob Seger in there for good measure (you wish you had one bourbon, one scotch and one beer to wash away this silver bullet, but this is clearly Dry Country). 2/10

Vedderites will recognize Sleeping By Myself from his solo Ukulele Songs album... which for some reason the band decided to cover, taking it from an honest, touching song to a pseudo-country cheese-fest. To make the pain in my ears more bearable when I listen to this, when the guitar solo comes up at the 1:30 mark, I just turn my brain off and drift into the chorus of P!nk's Just Give Me A Reason - yes, I know - and it helps me survive until the next verse. 3/10

Yellow Moon is a winner, though, and probably should have been the closing track. Reminiscent of such nice, dark ballads as Nothingman, it would have been at its place on any PJ record save the first and previous-last, it fits so well in their catalog. It's Low Light's bigger, stronger brother. 8/10

But Future Days is the actual closer, and it's a fine slow song, in the vein of The End or All Or None, though it might have been better suited to play during the end credits of a very good film (see Man Of The Hour for Big Fish). The keyboard intro is the only spot in which Boom Gaspar's presence is felt, which is a tad off-putting considering he's in every band photo for the album. 7/10

All in all, this is an album of firsts in my relationship with Pearl Jam: the first time I don't really like an album, the first time I dislike more songs than I love, the first time I dread going out to see them live in case they pop one of these out, the first time I'm angry at them for going soft for no reason (not the ballads, the ball-less Let The Records Play).

All in all, I'll give this a 6/10.

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