Given that, since they released debut album Ten in 1991, Pearl Jam have never taken more than a four year break between records, 2009’s Backspacer still felt as though they were back in the game. Rawer and more inspired than any band at their stage in a career had any right to be, it certainly set them up for their third decade as a going concern.
Even with one of their longer gaps behind them, Lightning Bolt picks up exactly where Backspacer left off. ‘Getaway’ and ‘Mind Your Manners’ are both rough and ready punk rock numbers, the latter strongly reminiscent of ‘Spin The Black Circle’. Indeed, anything on Lightning Bolt could have come from any one of Pearl Jam’s preceding nine albums. They’re not a band who are likely to surprise you at any stage but neither are they going to do anything that doesn’t feel completely natural. For an act who were suspiciously crowbarred into the grunge movement, Pearl Jam do everything on their own terms.
Thus Lightning Bolt feels like an honest, good hearted piece of work. ‘My Father’s Son’ completes the opening segment in rather tuneless fashion, a problem remedied by the gorgeous ‘Sirens’ (Eddie Vedder’s voice reaching notes that will send a shudder down many a spine) and the splendid title track – the perfect balance between melody and menace and easily up there with some of their best moments.
Never a band to let their audience down, Pearl Jam aren’t about to let such momentum slip – although the second half does have a tendency to wander in different directions. ‘Infallible’ and ‘Pendulum’ experiment with odd rhythms before ‘Swallowed Whole’ pulls things back on track in a rootsy, REM style. By the time they hit the 12 bar blues of ‘Let The Records Play’ it’s clear that Pearl Jam are just enjoying themselves. Often an excuse for bands to disappear up their own egos, it just so happens that what makes Pearl Jam happy will have the same effect on their audience.
The record ends, not with the bang that began it, but with the acoustic lilt of ‘Future Days’. Adding a country style fiddle to the mix (maybe they can surprise us after all) it’s a gorgeous sunset of a track that looks ahead with optimism and spirit. “All the demons used to come around, “ sings Vedder, “I’m grateful now they’ve left”. What those demons have left behind is a band perhaps stronger than ever and clearly not planning to give up on each other any time soon.