Note: This week we’re happy to bring you another post by the one and only Moe who weighed in recently on the Macklemore debate. Somehow, we’ve gone nearly two years without really talking about Pearl Jam. Today, Moe rectifies this with a review of the band’s most recent album. I guarantee that we’ll be talking about Pearl Jam some more very soon.
Pearl Jam, a band that has been in my life since I was in middle school, has seen a resurgence in recent years with back to back deep and quality albums. In 2006 the band released the self-titled album, Pearl Jam, which hits the highs of political critique and all out rock with “World Wide Suicide” and the lows of loss with “Come Back.” It is this album that brought me back to one of the first bands for which I ever felt a strong connection.
They followed this up in 2009 with Backspacer. Oddly enough, it took me a while to buy this album because they marketed it during the World Series around the track “The Fixer,” mediocre at best. However, after getting the album I was stunned. Outside of Ten, the band’s first album, this is their best work to date. I would say the best here is “Amongst the Waves” and “Speed of Sound,” but arguments can be made for a number of other tracks. It is a masterpiece.
So, this takes me to this past Tuesday and the long awaited arrival of Pearl Jam’s new album, Lighting Bolt. I honestly do not recall ever looking forward to an album this much. Maybe it is a victim of my own over hype– I find the album good, but not worthy of the band’s previous effort. There is brilliance here, but it is inconsistent. Even many of the tracks that are good are cliché for the band and derivative of their other stuff.
So, while on the whole the album is disappointing, it has some serious gems. The best of which is “Sirens.” This is a song about something all of us living near a city become accustomed to, sirens. But in the first lines Vedder is asking us to do something we rarely do, “Hear the sirens.” He repeats this refrain throughout the song and mostly it takes the form of a command. He wants us, the audience, to “Hear the sirens.” Why? Because only by internalizing “The sound echoing closer” and contemplating “Will they come for me next time?” do we realize that if they do not come for us next time, someday they will. If we realize this, “It’s a fragile thing/ This life we lead,” then we can love better and stronger because everything is fleeting. The most powerful line then, of an overall very emotional song, is “I study your face/and the fear goes away,” that you can live for love, not in spite of the sirens, but because of them. Vedder is at his best with deep emotional lyrics and he excels here.
The melody of “Sirens” is haughty, which if the album has any consistency it is this tone. Whereas Backspacer was uncharacteristically upbeat, this album is melancholic. This tone is especially evident in “Pendulum,” a very different sounding song for the band. The sound is chilling and Vedder’s vocals and lyrics fit the harmonies perfectly. I continued to think of Edgar Allen Poe when listening to this song, not only because of the obvious connection to “The Pit and the Pendulum,” but because the sound is unquestionably Gothic This song is a stretch for the band, but they handle it perfectly.
I have included two last songs to give a sense of the album as a whole, because “Sirens” and “Pendulum” are a cut above everything else on the album. “Let the Records Play” is a fun song with the blending of styles which I usually find endearing, but here it is lacking something that keeping it from being outstanding, instead of just good. The song has a great sound though.
“Yellow Moon” is a difficult song for me to describe. I like the song, but I don’t know what I am supposed to do with it, which isn’t all bad. It has forced me to listen to the song more than the rest and it has really grown on me.
Taken in totality the album doesn’t live up to my own billing, but it is not a failure either. What is clear to me though is that the band works best as a unit. The songs which Vedder writes alone are missing something, whereas the songs which Cameron, Gossard, McCready, and/or Ament have a hand in are the best on the album. It takes to group to create greatness and this album has it, just not consistent enough to call it a classic. Good album, good songs, yet not enough to make a smash hit like their best albums.
Best Songs: “Sirens” and “Pendulum”
Worth a Listen: “Getaway,” “Let the Records Play,” “Sleeping By Myself” and “Yellow Moon”