First listen: Pearl Jam’s ‘Lightning Bolt’

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Pearl Jam gave its 10th studio album “Lightning Bolt” its public debut Thursday night during a private listening party at Studio X. You can read all about the party and what the band had to say about the album over here.

RELATED: Stream Pearl Jam’s new album “Lightning Bolt” | Pearl Jam opens up to fans at intimate “Lightning Bolt” town hall

“Lightning Bolt” will be released Oct. 15 but before I write a full review of the record I want to share my initial thoughts on the album as written in my notebook. This isn’t necessarily a track-by-track review (although it’s written that way in my notes) or a formal analysis of the record, rather it’s a slightly modified transcription of my immediate thoughts when I first heard the record. So what you see here is very close to what appears in my notebook.

  • “Getaway” is a great starting song. It follows the tradition of “Brain of J,” “Breakerfall” and other hard-hitting, uptempo album-opening tracks.
  • “My Father’s Son” has a sick bass line. Seriously nice, bouncy groove established by Jeff. Keeps the pace of the record well (“Mind Your Manners” was track 2). I’m not a fan of the abrupt ending. I wish it would’ve lasted another few minutes instead.
  • “Lightning Bolt” sounds so much better on record than it did when the band debuted it at Wrigley. I hope they iron out the kinks on this one live because when it opens up it really gets going and has lots of potential to become a fan favorite. It’s a good follow-up track for “Sirens” (which was track 4) that makes sure the band won’t lose listeners thinking this is a record full of ballads.
  • Is that a synthesizer on “Infallible?” This is definitely a different sound for the band. This might easily be the most diverse first half of an album that Pearl Jam has produced. Ed really opens up his voice on the chorus here. Lyric sample: “Anything is possible in the hearts and minds of men/Somehow it’s the biggest things that keep slipping right through our hands.” Another lyric could be about a change in direction for the band (I doubt it) “You’d think we’ve been here before. You’d be mistaken.” Eddie’s voice sounds pretty good on the album so far.
  • Things are a bit dark on “Pendulum.” Instrumentation: very slow drums, tambourine and sparse guitar. Sample lyrics: “We are here and we go/My shadow left me long ago.” “Easy come and easy go/Easy left me a long time ago.” Maybe dark isn’t the right word. Moody perhaps? Definitely not a happy song but I really like it.
  • As dark as “Pendulum” is, “Swallowed Whole” is a bit peppier. But it wouldn’t take much to be peppier than “Pendulum.” Also, as sparse as the guitars as in “Pendulum,” they’re very much present here.
  • Pearl Jam does the blues on “Let the Records Play.” Good groove here. I am betting it’s a Stone song.
  • Is this Pearl Jam’s jump the shark moment? Could be. Reworking of “Sleeping By Myself” off Ed’s ukulele record sounds good as a band number. But it has country feel. Maybe a bit of a reaction to trying to sound modern with neo folk being so popular? There’s a shuffling guitar and drum backbeat and what could be passed for a slide guitar. The song has gone from a gentle ballad to a more twanged-up alt-country sound. I’m sure fans will dig it, but it could also be a very polarizing song among hardcore fans.
  • Here comes another ballad with “Yellow Moon.”  It’s not as captivating as “Sirens.” I’m not much of a fan of this. Maybe it will grow on me. Seems like there’s no need for it since “Sirens” is such a standout ballad.
  • Piano notes begin the ending of the record on “Future Days.” Another slower song. It’s very pretty. I don’t think I hear drums. Reminds me of how “Backspacer” ends with “The End.” Sample lyrics: “I believe, I believe because I can see our future days/Days of you and me”

I’ve been spending some time with an advance copy of the album the past few days and my thoughts on the record have changed quite a bit since hearing “Lightning Bolt” for the first time so look for a more thorough review of the album soon.

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Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.