Nobody and I mean NOBODY involved with or familiar with the Seattle scene back in 1991 would have guessed that Pearl Jam would be, with the exception of Puget Sound stalwarts Mudhoney, the last band standing. They were the upstarts, the Johnny-Come-Latelys that took a long time to gain the respect from their peers. After almost all of their peers disbanded, overdosed or both, Pearl Jam remained. How have they lasted?
Maybe because they're smart. Mudhoney's Mark Arm has talked on frequent occasions that the Pearl Jam tour they went on back in the day reaffirmed for them how to do it right. They had just come off a tour with Nirvana and saw how exhausted and miserable the band was because they put little thought into who they surrounded themselves with. Business folk, leeches and other assorted psychic vampires kept the band from looking like they would last the year. The Pearl Jam tour wound up being the exact opposite. Maybe its because appear to have integrity. They famously took on the overlords at Ticketmaster over their exorbitant service charges and somehow still managed to catch shit from the critics, calling it a publicity stunt.
Or maybe it's because they don't let all the peripheral trappings of being musicians affect the work. Lightning Bolt is the band's tenth studio release and it ranks among the best in their catalog. It seems a natural follow-up to 2009's Backspacer - an energetic offering that saw a band reinvigorated when it should have been at the zenith of it's career.
Lightning Bolt comes across as a somewhat more focused effort than its predecessor. Producer credits again go to Brendan O'Brien, who does a great job of injecting a vitality and depth to the album with a warm crispness and balance to the record.
Lead single "Mind Your Manners" is a prick-kicker of a tune - perhaps the punkiest tempo since 1994's "Spin The Black Circle", complete with a scorcher of a solo from Mike McReady. The track is followed closely by "My Father's Son", that features some great bass work from Jeff Ament.
There's a life-affirming tone to a lot of the songs on this album - an aural hope usually reserved for an album's coda, but in tracks like "Swallowed Whole" and "Let the Records Play" the band manages to recapture the days of glory past without tripping over the cracks of nostalgia. It's really only the haunting and beautiful strains of "Pendulum" that cast a brief shadow over the proceedings.
Through the years, nobody has ever accused/complimented Pearl Jam on trying to reinvent the wheel, but they've become the village elders, whose words and wisdom, people continue to find solace in their times of trouble and despair - a voice from the past to lead them out of a dark future.