October 16th, 2013 1:17pm
The Hearts And Minds Of Men
Pearl Jam have been essentially the same since around 1998. That’s when their lineup solidified with Matt Cameron as their permanent drummer, and it’s when the band officially dropped out of the mainstream and firmed up their position as a cult act mainly focused on touring. They found a comfortable niche where they could thrive, and then immediately lost all creative ambition. Aside from a few token tracks here and there, they haven’t experimented at all since No Code in 1996, and each album from Yield onward is essentially the same record with different songs. This isn’t to say that the records have been bad – some have been better, some have been worse, and all of them have at least a few very good tracks – but the songwriting settled into a few basic templates and there has been no variation in aesthetic, tone, production style, or songwriting emphasis. Every album is well-rounded in the same predictable way, so you can’t even be like “oh, that’s the folky one, that’s the heavy one, that’s lo-fi one, that’s the double album.” It’s sensible, but also mystifying in that these talented guys seem so hell-bent on sticking to a formula and never stepping outside of their comfort zone.
Lightning Bolt, their new album, is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. The songs range from pretty good to perfectly fine, though I don’t particularly like the new single “Sirens,” which sounds more like a band you’d say sounds like Pearl Jam than Pearl Jam themselves. The big keeper on this one is “Infallible” – it has a nice lurching groove, a bit of color in the bass and keyboards, and a melody that flatters the rich, handsome tone of Eddie Vedder’s voice. His performance here is pretty great, I always love when he filters classic soul affects through his distinct vocal style. It’s funny, he’s actually kind of a hugely underrated rock singer now. But then again, he’s probably not doing enough to showcase his voice in terms of material. It would be more striking to people if put in a slightly different context.
Buy it from Amazon.