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Pearl Jam

Lightning Bolt

Pearl Jam
7
Now that Pearl Jam have, for all intents and purposes, been enshrined as one of America's great rock'n'roll bands, they face the question all those previously in their position had to answer: what's left to prove, if not to their fans, at least to themselves? Given that context, Lightning Bolt (the group's first all-original collection since 2009's Backspacer) exceeds whatever expectations there still may have been on Pearl Jam to match their early triumphs. While a group like the Rolling Stones shamelessly chased trends in order to accomplish this, Pearl Jam, since the late '00s, have adopted a rough-and-ready philosophy in their efforts to stay relevant — not rehashing grunge, but going further back into its partial punk rock origins. The trade-off has been a handful of fiery rockers on each of their last few albums, and a great deal of filler seemingly put there to prop up those other tracks. Lightning Bolt avoids this pattern, for the most part, busting out of the gate strong with the chugging "Getaway" and the downright blazing "Mind Your Manners." The catchiness factor remains high with the solid, made-for-modern-radio "My Father's Son," "Sirens" and the title track, until the inevitable mid-album lull comes with "Infallible" and "Pendulum." Things pick up again with the majestic "Swallowed Whole" and the uncharacteristically bluesy "Let The Records Play," which stomps like a T-Rex outtake. That's where the momentum stops though, as Vedder's ukulele throwaway, "Sleeping By Myself," should have been saved for a solo project, while things wind down with the atmospheric "Yellow Moon" and sparse, Springsteen-esque ballad "Future Days." These give the impression that Pearl Jam still feel the burden of being "important," rather than challenging, but there's enough flat-out enjoyable tunes on Lightning Bolt to set aside the past, at least temporarily. (Monkey Wrench)

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