After four years and a Backspacer hangover, Pearl Jam knew that they would need to do something special to introduce their 10th album, and Lightning Bolt had one of the most ambitious album builds in Pearl Jam history. We would need to write a book to cover it all, so here is the TL/DR version.
1. The Countdown(s): We learned that the only thing better than one countdown is three countdowns. The first countdown, beginning on July 1st and ending a week later, featured a tour announcement and intro music that was awesome and therefore wouldn’t be on the album. Also, the album was going to be called Lightning Bolt, which left many fans under...whelmed.
The cover art looked pretty cool, though, and apparently was designed to let us know that the rapture was imminent.
Confess with your mouth.
Unfortunately we had no tracklist or single. But we did get a countdown to...
2. The first single (Mind Your Manners): Pearl Jam reminds us that Eddie can actually sing a fast, aggressive song without shrieking, and that inside every Ole is a bad ass rewrite just waiting for its moment. This was followed by yet another countdown, this one to the album launch. Now it’s time to kill three months. For a while nothing happened, but we did get...
3. The first video: Thanks to the Mind Your Manners video we know exactly how cool the band looks silhouetted surrounded by cartoon lightning bolts. But what other songs are on the album?
4. The artwork/tracklist reveal: With no tracklist we had several weeks to speculate and leak our own. Was there really going to be a song called Billy Billy Micropenis? Where’s My Sponge (I believed that one)? And when will we finally get to hear a decent version of Betterman (live)? Which ukulele song is going to make it? Which 6 year old songs from two albums ago are going to make an appearance. At the end of August, Pearl Jam answers all these questions (no, no, someday, Sleeping By Myself, none) with an exciting week of piecemeal album artwork (which was excellent) reveals and figuring out which song title was going to be Of the Earth. Anyone who says they didn’t enjoy this process is full of shit.
5. The Brendan O’Brien interviews: Pearl Jam refused to talk about the new record but we did get several interview from everyone’s favorite producer/personal messiah/6th member of the band (sorry, Boom) where we learned that Sirens is the best song Pearl Jam ever did, that Yellow Moon and Pendulum were not songs he particularly wanted on the record, and that we do need to credit him with the studio version of Sleeping By Myself. Was he right about Sirens?
6. The second single (Sirens): First listen: What the fuck, it’s a power ballad?
Fifth listen: I kind of like this
Tenth Listen: Fuck yes, it’s a power ballad!
Sirens quickly becomes the most divisive song in Pearl Jam’s catalog this side of The Fixer, except people other than me actually seem to love it.
7. The second video (Sirens): Please don’t make a power ballad video. Please don’t make a power ballad video. Please don’t make a power ballad video. Hey wait, this is actually better than the studio version. Danny Clinch delivers a low lit tasteful video featuring soulful performances and the appearance of Stone’s guitar. What else do we get?
8. The Vignettes: Still no interviews, but we did get a few cool insights into the creative process.
Playing a guitar alongside active train tracks is romantic, but also kind of dangerous.
9. The listening parties: Fans are outraged about the lack of a leak. However, there were several pre launch listening parties, and their reviews taught us a lot about the album--in particular that the tour promo music WOULD be on the album, that My Father’s Son was sung by Stone, that Yellow Moon was a Mark Lanegan/REM song, and that Sleeping By Myself was terrible. Some of these predictions were more accurate than others.
But most of all, the listening party birthed what would become the single most important bit of music produced by the Lighting Bolt sessions:
10. The ESPN leak: Whether or not this was intentionally leaked (probably not) we did get to hear Getaway, Swallowed Whole, Lightning Bolt, and Let the Records Play at least a few weeks before the album came out. This meant we got to get our anger about the Lightning Bolt fade out of our system before the album hit, which was a smart tactical move on the part of Pearl Jam management.
11. The EPK: Another album, another Danny Clinch EPK. He’s good at what he does. We learn that some songs were inspired by surfing.
12. The Interviews: Pearl Jam wasn’t doing any interviews leading up to Lightning Bolt, which lead many to suspect that only Brendan O’Brien cared about the album. Instead they had several hours worth of in depth interviews carried out by friends/fans of the band (Portlandia co-creator and former member of Sleater-Kinney, Carrie Brownstein, former New Orleans Saints safety, Steve Gleason, World Champion Surfer, Mark Richards, and film director, Judd Apatow. Questions were insightful, interesting, different, but the absence the ashes of Mother Love Bone seems disrespectful to some.
We all got pissed off with the first Countdown. We all got nervous when we didn’t see the band doing much press. Was the album even finished? Where was the tracklist? But in the end, there’s not much more Pearl Jam could have done to get people excited for Lightning Bolt. It was about as comprehensive and well done a build up as we’ve ever gotten. It will be difficult to top. We will be inclined to be more forgiving if it doesn’t take four fucking years.