Pearl Jam’s “Lightning Bolt” is a rock jukebox set to shuffle.
The Seattle survivors’ 10th studio album is erratically paced and skips from punk rock attacks to power ballads to AOR offerings in a schizophrenic playlist. Recorded over two years with longtime collaborator Brendan O’Brien and with four songwriters writing independently, it’s no surprise the LP often feels like a compilation album rather than a fully realized collection.
Like its 2009 predecessor “Backspacer,” ‘’Lightning Bolt” kicks off with three stadium-leveling belters. The solid “Getaway” is piggybacked by furiously kinetic first single “Mind Your Manners” — a close cousin to the band’s 1994 track “Spin the Black Circle” — and accusatory scream-a-long “My Father’s Son.”
Then comes “Sirens,” a slow-burning torch song built around the importance of love in the face of mortality. This is the most unashamedly sentimental song the band has ever released and stands to become a first dance fixture at weddings across the globe. Equally surprising is state-of-the-nation address “Infallible,” which somehow manages to ape both the keyboard line from The Dead Weather’s “Treat Me Like Your Mother” and the melodic line from Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.”
Elsewhere, there’s the Eddie Vedder-penned title track and “Swallowed Whole” — two enjoyable, mid-tempo rockers about the majesty of nature — and the ethereal “Pendulum,” which marries echo-laden, snaking guitar work and a whispered, conspiratorial vocal to stunning effect.
Sadly, “Lightning Bolt” loses its spark during its closing quartet, including hackneyed stomper “Let The Records Play” (lyrics include, “With the volume up, he goes and fills his cup and lets the drummer’s drum take away the pain”) and ballads “Sleeping By Myself,” ‘’Yellow Moon” and “Future Days” — tracks that will provide plenty of opportunities for fans to trek to the bar at their upcoming gigs.
Pearl Jam’s recent albums have started with a bang, but ended with a whimper and “Lightning Bolt” is no exception. As Vedder intones on “Getaway,” “Sometimes you find yourself being told to change your ways — there’s no way.”