Pearl Jam attempts to move forward with “Lightning Bolt”

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After 20-plus years and 10 albums, Pearl Jam are proving they at least will not go gently into nostalgia, even if the night is now the territory of alternative hip-hop and PBR&B. Now, they are determined to light up the world from the rock Olympus with their newest release “Lightning Bolt.”

The Seattle-based rock band formed in 1990 and has been steadily releasing albums ever since. The latest was 2009’s “Backspacer.” 

While the last few years did give them an excuse to indulge in nostalgia with the 20th anniversary of their debut album “Ten,” reissues of two other albums, and a Cameron Crowe-directed retrospective, it seems the band is done with that and wants to keep on looking ahead now. But what is there to look forward to? Rock has been slipping out of the public eye, mostly due to a lack of innovation, and it is hard to find rock groups really jumping out there.   

That being said, Pearl Jam clearly are diversifying themselves on this album. The first three songs, “Getaway,” “Mind Your Manners” and “My Father’s Son” are a perfect trifecta of furious energy and get things started the right way. Then “Sirens,” a Mike McCready-penned ballad, arrives as a palate cleanser before the tempo kicks back up again, as a good record should.

The middle of the record feels mostly like territory Pearl Jam has already tread to mud, even if the quality is strong. It is nothing to get crazy about.

But right as “Lightning Bolt” is reaching its end, Pearl Jam suddenly break out their newest influences and toys, starting with Stone Gossard’s swampy blues guitar work on “Let the Records Play” and the lovelorn folk of  “Sleeping By Myself,” one of Eddie Vedder’s ukulele songs with a brand new bag. Then there is “Yellow Moon,” with a chord sequence and feel that keeps the pre-release Pink Floyd comparisons from being total nonsense.

But both the mournful feel of country and the stark lyricism of folk unite to produce a potent finisher, “Future Days,” that has Vedder reconciling his past to start anew: “So persistent in my ways/Hey Angel I am here to stay/No resistance, no alarms/Please, this is just too good to be gone.”

In a way, the closing song is almost the message of “Lightning Bolt,” especially since it emerged after a period of reliving the past for Pearl Jam. They have not quite left their past yet, but they want to move forward regardless. The album is the sound of transition, and you can take that as you will.  

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