First! A recap:
11. Ten Million Tens
... and finally, the #1 Pearl Jam Moment of 2013 ...
Lightning Bolt is an album worthy of very group of adjectives you'd like to throw at it. It is a group of songs that deliver one collective punch of emotion, and yet each song taken by itself demonstrates different, distinct way in which Pearl Jam has evolved.
It would be impossible to tell what the highlights are since the debate has only been raging for two months and will probably continue dozens of years more. The band did make their own stand with two singles so far, Mike's tribute to the Dead Kennedys, Mind Your Manners, and his tribute to Pink Floyd, Sirens. You can check the videos in last week's post, but if you've had enough of them, you can also check out the Mind Your Manners Alt. Take video.
What other gems are on the album?
An uptempo, rocking opener written by Eddie, but with a bass line by Jeff that steals the day. There is a lot of things on this album to argue about, but Getaway is not one of them. Even from the early, poorly ripped, ESPN leak, it has been nearly universally loved. (Live debut: 10/30 in Charlotte)
MY FATHER'S SON
Enter the arguments. My Father's Son is one of more contentious songs on the album. Fans are split into a Love It Camp and a Hate It Camp. There's really no in-between. Jeff wrote the music, and Mike picks up a six-string bass to help carry the line, but it's Ed's lyrics that generally spark the emotions. On the surface it seems like an angry, autobiographical sequel to Alive, but as with all things Pearl Jam, that's not so clear. Ed is clearly sarcastic, but is he railing against family, the world, or has he stepped into another person's persona entirely? (Live debut: 10/12 in Buffalo)
Lightning Bolt is an epic drama that we usually expect to be written by Mike and buried late in the album a la Force of Nature or Inside Job, but here Ed penned the song that captures the spirit of the album. It's a metaphor within a metaphor, on the surface it seems that the imagery describes a lover or is it a daughter? Or is the woman in the song a metaphor for the inspiration the drove the creative processes the gave birth to the album? One thing that is not debated is that this song sounds even better live. Expect to hear it for years to come. (Live debut: 7/19 in Chicago)
Another fan favorite, Infallible is a political/environmental song. It's clear at this point in the album that Ed is lyrically rocking back and forth between his personal emotions and his political agenda. Maybe this album signifies a blending of the emotional, early Pearl Jam, and the political band of the 2000s. Musically, this album is best described by Stip:
I guess there are probably some analogues to this song in the catalog (maybe think Tremor Christ meets You Are) but Infallible probably feels the newest of everything we’ve heard. Synth heavy, pounding, groovy, ominous, brooding, and playful--Infallible keeps the listener on its toes. It’s one of the trickier songs to grasp, always just a tiny bit out of reach.(Live debut: 10/11 in Pittsburgh)
The song that opened the tour! And then went on to open two-thirds of the shows on this tour. Jeff's dark, spooky use of a bowed guitar building into Stone's bongos under Ed's echoing howls created one of the more unexpected favorites on the album. Live the song seems written to be played as a dark stage comes to life and it hands off to nearly anything in the Pearl Jam catalog with ease. (Live debut: 10/11 in Pittsburgh)
Swallowed Whole is often cited as an homage to R.E.M., though the band does not specifically state that the way they referenced the inspiration behind Mind Your Manners and Sirens. This is another song that splits the fan base into bitterly rivaled camps. As I'm among the naysayers, I'll let Stip speak to this one:
The song is driven by a jangly acoustic guitar, but all three guitar players have interesting parts to play, and it is a surprisingly rich and robust song. Eddie starts out playing it relatively low key for a fast song, and the contrast between his performance and the music is interesting, until about a minute fifteen into the song, when everything suddenly explodes into a major key celebration of life and feeling like you belong--ostensibly to nature, but it’s hardly necessary to confine the song to that. It’s the feeling of belonging that matters.(Live debut: 10/12 in Buffalo)
LET THE RECORDS PLAY
Written by Stone, most likely while watching True Blood on HBO, Let The Records Play is a fun, bluesy rock song that very clearly comes out of the experimentation Stone undertook when writing his solo album, Moonlander. Let The Records Play and Witch Doctor would pair quite nicely on one of my grandma's old 78s. Live, it's been paired a few times with the punky scream of Spin The Black Circle, less for musical similarity than for a continuity in the lyrics, but there is a much more fatalistic tone to Let The Records Play that leaves us simply enjoying what we've got. (Live debut: 10/11 in Pittsburgh)
SLEEPING BY MYSELF
Here, at the behest of Brendan O'Brien, we get the full band treatment of an Eddie Vedder solo tune. Sleeping By Myself is not only the lightest, most chipper thing on the album, it's the lightest, most chipper thing Pearl Jam has ever recorded. Is this one of the bands the pioneered the 90s grunge sound? Hearing this song on its own (and a lot of us did skip right to it to find out what it was like), you'd question why it's on the album, but when reached as part of the album, you don't know why you thought it should be left out. The music belies the raw emotion characterized by the lyrics, and yet somehow delivers that emotion better than when Ed plays it alone with a ukulele. (Live debut: 11/21 in San Diego)
'Yeeea-heeaa-heeaeaaa-lomoo Hohwooon... the raaaaaaiiiiiise.' Some say Jeff is the MVP of Lightning Bolt, and some say Ed. I say that for no other reason than the decision to fight for Yellow Moon, a song he didn't even write, Mike is our MVP. He has stated in an interview that this song was destined for the cutting room floor, but he fought to include it. Though it's clearly the hardest song to learn to sing along with, there is no way that Lightning Bolt is Lightning Bolt without it. Jeff's music compliments the drama of Ed's lyrics perfectly. Could the album have ended here? Maybe. (Live debut: 10/11 in Pittsburgh)
Our first listen was in Chicago, and although the YouTube video left much to be desired, a later leak of the isolate from Ed's mike and guitar tweaked our heart. Brendan O'Brien brought piano into this Ed-penned closer, a choice that will no doubt be grumbled about on the forums at least as much as the fade out. A read of Ed's lyrics will surely bring a tear to many eyes, but the song doesn't carry that same emotion. Somehow, this song never hits you the way it should, but it lays the album to rest without shame. (Live debut: 7/19 in Chicago)
In the end, it was a tough call. Lightning Bolt was clearly the biggest news story of the year. Was it number one because it was everything we hoped it would be? Was it number one because we were so starved for new album after the longest Pearl-Jam-album-gap in history? It's tough to say.
But what's to come next year? We'll have some guesses for you tomorrow.