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Pearl Jam prefers to play it safe on 10th album ‘Lightning Bolt’

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Three stars

Pearl Jam Lightning Bolt

At this point in their careers, the members of Pearl Jam are nearly as venerable and venerated as the classic rock icons they look up to. And like Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen, they can put out albums that serve no one but themselves, secure fans will eagerly flock to whatever music they create, and their decades-long legacy of hits will still sell concert tickets around the world. The last few Pearl Jam albums have been disappointingly middle-of-the-road, however, and Lightning Bolt continues that trend. The band’s 10th studio album is a solid collection of rock songs that doesn’t push stylistic boundaries or head in any new directions.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t appealing, though, and early singles “Mind Your Manners” and “Sirens” represent well-crafted examples of two classic Pearl Jam modes, one a punchy, punk-influenced rocker, the other a grand and slightly overwrought ballad. Elsewhere, “Swallowed Whole” is energetic and catchy, and “Let the Records Play” is bluesy and gritty, making it the only song on the album that doesn’t sound like a direct variation on something the band has done before.

There are a few too many bland midtempo songs that neither rock nor soar, and nothing on Lightning Bolt will be mistaken for the new “Alive” or “Daughter.” Pearl Jam long ago opted out of trying to create chart-topping hits, and Lightning Bolt demonstrates once again that the band members aren’t chasing the next big thing, either. They know exactly what works, and they’re sticking with that.

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