High Notes – November 2013
Pearl Jam: Lightning Bolt
It’s always an achievement for a band to reach its tenth album, and even more of a feat when that band is virtually unscathed. After 22 years, the only lineup changes Pearl Jam has undergone have been at the drum throne and even that has remained constant for fifteen years. No, the most remarkable aspect of Pearl Jam’s tenth album is that it is so good. They have never made a bad album, sure, but it still feels like they have reached a wondrous new plateau with an album that lives up to its name and continues to deliver with each and every spin.
Kicking off with “Getaway”, the band quickly settles into a slippery groove with a great melodic sense and guitars that deliver a perfect crunch and one of oh so many powerful choruses on this album. From there the Jammers evoke Black Flag for the charging lead single, “Mind Your Manners”, one of the hardest and heaviest tracks they’ve cut in a long time. “My Father’s Son” is another great tune centered around a particularly aggressive Jeff Ament bass figure and some wicked atmospheric guitar chimes. “Sirens” spins the black circle into a completely different direction with perhaps Pearl Jam’s best mid-tempo number since “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”. The title track features a couple of U2isms and a good bit of drama before exploding into a groove that is classic Pearl Jam. From there, they bust into one of the high water mark that is “Infallible”, a song that is sure to be a single and a major hit. A killer groove and an even better chorus make this a perfect late-period anthem. They get dark with “Pendulum”, a slow, ethereal number that is very different from what you would expect, and expand upon an REM-esque feel on the wildly varied “Swallowed Whole”. Further on, they get as close to guttural Texas blues as they’ve ever gotten with the playful “Let The Records Play” and “Sleeping By Myself” is a sweet little acoustic-based number that sounds like a leftover from Eddie Vedder’s solo work. “Yellow Moon” is another slow, dramatic number that drives home the band’s claims that Pink Floyd was a major influence on this album. The ascending figure that closes out the back half of this song is one of the most uplifting pieces of music I’ve heard all year. Closing out the album is the acoustic “Future Days”, that perfect sort of endgame where you can actually hear the credits rolling. Not that I would ever suspect it as such but if this were to somehow become the final Pearl Jam album, this would be the perfect song to go out on. Absolutely stunning.
Way back in the beginning, it was pretty clear that Pearl Jam was one of those bands that was in it for the long haul. Fortunately, they show no signs of ending anytime soon. With an album as good as this, they‘d better not. Lightning Bolt just proves that after 22 years, they’ve still got it and aren’t afraid to flaunt it.
Speaking of artists who are in it for the long haul…
Paul McCartney could have easily laid down his bass after the Beatles split and never played another note and he would still be Sir Macca. However, he kept trucking along, sometimes releasing stellar albums, sometimes not so. Fortunately, Paul’s 24th post-Beatles album, New, easily falls into the former category.
Working with four distinct producers (Ethan Johns, Giles Martin, Mark Ronson, and Paul Epworth), McCartney delivers one of his best-ever solo albums. When you release an album so late in your career and call it “New”, you’d better be able to back it up. And he does. Kicking off with the rockin’ “Save Us”, Paul displays an energy and urgency that is rarely found in a septuagenarian, especially one who has long since had anything to prove. “Alligator” has a swingin’ vibe to it with a slant that reminds me of Ray Davies. The album takes a silly turn with “On My Way To Work” but then bounces right back with the modern classic, “Queenie Eye”, a song that could make you think that the Beatles never really ended. Speaking of the Beatles, Paul gets sentimental on the beautiful acoustic “Early Days”, reminiscing about his formative years with John Lennon, getting their start in late-50s Liverpool. The biggest highlight of this album is the title track, another classic McCartney bouncer that has a distinct post-Pepper vibe and only suffers from being a bit short (seriously, I could listen to this song all day). From there, Paul dives into spooky electronica on “Appreciate”, a song that sounds similar to his work under the pseudonym, The Fireman. “Everybody Out There” features one of the best choruses of any McCartney song, ever, while “Hosanna” sounds like something that would have been found on one of his early solo albums. “I Can Bet” has a bit of a disco groove that is saved by the fact that it’s a decent song. “Looking At Her” is a bit of a strange song that mixes contemporary feels with a classic Paul vibe. Closing out the main album, “Road” is another odd one that features some wild production flourishes. As a closer, it is a bit subdued. Fortunately, for those who get the deluxe edition, “Turned Out” is a great pop song that probably should have been a single, and “Get Me Out Of Here” is a fun, bluesy number that had to be a hoot to record, and the hidden track, “Scared”, is one of Paul’s great piano numbers, ala “Fool On The Hill”.
Who knows how much longer Paul will continue to make records. Most of his contemporaries have long since given up on new music, winding out their careers trodding out the same old hits. This album proves that Paul still has so much left in him. Truly, a treasure.
~ Written by: Chris Anderson