Review by Michael Hallisey
Twenty-two years have come and passed since the release of Pearl Jam’s Ten, eclipsing the career of former NBA point-guard Mookie Blaylock, to whose jersey number the band paid homage. But, unlike an aged athlete who fails to recognize the time to retire, Pearl Jam has retained their relevancy through a sound which has matured along with the generation it initially helped define.
Pearl Jam was born out of the hot cauldron that was the Seattle grunge movement of the early ‘90s. It was a revolution in both music and image. It revolted against the pop-synth sound that dominated the Top 40 with heavy bass and lyrics that told stories of depression and ostracism. And, where television’s Beverly Hills 90210 portrayed rich, preppy teenagers in the midst of decadence in sunny California, followers often times embraced a hippy look complete with long hair, Birkenstocks, baggy clothes and plaid. Bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard achieved success earlier as members of the band Mother Love Bone. However, the unfortunate death of their frontman, Andrew Wood, not only served as a harbinger for a heroine-infested scene that would also see the premature deaths of Layne Staley (Alice in Chains), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and Shannon Hoon (Blind Melon), it created an opportunity to introduce wordsmith and vocalist, Eddie Vedder.
Through the years, Pearl Jam has captured listeners with existential lyrics and garage rock sound that continues to speak to members of Generation X, who grew up along with the band.
Generation X, in general, is characterized by openly acknowledging and embracing social diversity in terms of race, class, religion, ethnicity, culture, language, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Unlike their predecessors who challenged leaders with an intent to replace them, Gen X’ers are less likely to idolize leaders and are more inclined to work toward long-term institutional and systematic change through economic, media and consumer actions. Views, in which, coincide with those of Pearl Jam as well.
Throughout its career, Pearl Jam has promoted wider social and political issues, from pro-choice sentiments to opposition to George W. Bush’s presidency. Vedder acts as the band’s spokesman on these issues. The band has promoted an array of causes, including awareness of Crohn’s disease, which McCready suffers from, and Ticketmaster venue monopolization. Gossard has also been active in environmental pursuits, and has been an advocate of Pearl Jam’s carbon neutral policy, offsetting the band’s environmental impact.
In 2011, Pearl Jam was named Planet Defenders by Rock The Earth for their environmental activism and their large-scale efforts to decrease their own carbon emissions.
To date, the band has sold more than 31.5 million records in the United States and an estimated 60 million worldwide. Pearl Jam has outlasted and outsold many of its contemporaries, and is one of the most influential bands. And, come October 14th, the band will be releasing their tenth studio album, Lightning Bolt, to an international audience (October 15thfor domestic release). The release will be followed by a two-leg tour in North America during October and November, then they will headline the Big Day Out festival in Australia and New Zealand in 2014.
This 12-song compilation is a signature Pearl Jam experience. Of which, the first three song, “Getaway”,” Mind Your Manners” and “My Father’s Son”, harkens to their garage punk influences. Most notably of this is Manners, a fast-paced, in your face , anthem which McCready has already professed to being influenced by the Dead Kennedys. It’s true to its influence, and comes off as a genuine piece of their own. It’s followed by “My Father’s Son” an introspective look at the narrator, with a foreboding and nostalgic sound that carries a similar fingerprint to Vs. “Pendulum”, somber and haunting in tone, is yet another song that shares that same similarity that longtime fans will recognize.
Aside from two ballads, which will be mentioned in a moment, the CD transitions from garage-punk to classic rock, which McCready recently described as having a “Pink Floyd vibe”. Matt Cameron’s drum play does present a classic-rock presence throughout the majority of the album. The title track “Lightning Bolt” is an arena rock piece, heavy on McCready’s guitar play, something that should be fun to hear live. The boys, however, seem to go farther back than Floyd on “Let the Records Play,” a piece played in a honkey-tonk style, made popular in the ‘50s, that showcases Ament’s rhythm guitar.
In addition to honkey-tonk, “Sleeping By Myself” is yet another stretch from the expected. It’s a song originally recorded for Vedder’s solo album, Ukulele Songs. As implied, the ukulele takes the forefront in this sweet, laidback piece on unrequited love.
“Sirens”, which was just released last month, breaks us from the punk inspired songs of the first three tracks. It’s a beautifully penned ballad by McCready, where the narrator, a “grateful man”, confesses his fears of possibly losing his lover due to poor choices he has made. This is one of two noteworthy ballads; the other being “Future Days”, the twelfth track on the album. Days opens with the elegant piano play of Boom Gaspar, but is predominately played on acoustic guitar. With touching lyrics – “I believe, ‘cause I can see, our future days. Days of you and me.”– Days is a love song that will certainly be played as the first dance for couples on their wedding day.
Lightning Bolt is Pearl Jam’s first album in five years, and has been well worth the wait. Producer Brendan O’Brien masterfully facilitates transitions from one song to the next, each blending well in both tempo and style of play. Longtime fans will embrace such songs as Manners, My Father’s Son, and Pendulum for nostalgic reasons. But, overall, Pearl Jam has refined their sound, pushed out enough to make things fresh, that I believe there are plenty of gems here to make this CD a worthwhile purchase for even the casual fan. Each song has the potential to stay with you, long after you stopped playing it.
For more information, visit Pearl Jam at www.pearljam.com.