CD reviews: Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

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    Paul McCartney

Pearl Jam

Lightning Bolt/Monkeywrench/Republic



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.”

By Matthew Kemp, Associated Press

Paul McCartney

New/Hear Music



For his 16th solo record, and first of original material in six years, Paul McCartney turned to a team of four hot producers to come up with something “New.”

The result is both fresh and comfortably familiar. McCartney, a master of the catchy 3-minute pop song, isn’t reinventing himself here as the title may suggest. Rather, he’s once again compiling an enjoyable 45 minutes or so of toe-tapping pop songs that are sure to please his longtime fans while doing little to break much truly “new” ground.

Just try listening to “On My Way to Work” or “Queenie Eye” without bobbing your head along to the beat. Really, love him or hate him, few can pump out these types of ditties quite like McCartney.

Still, he’s no Bob Dylan.

There are flirtations with material with some gravitas here, but it’s just that — a flirtation. McCartney may toy with addressing in song whatever demons he may have, but he certainly doesn’t linger.

That said, the mere fact that McCartney is able to come up with something that isn’t a simple retread of his past successes must be considered a success, especially when that would be the easy way out, and one that he’s taken many times over his storied career.

Much of the credit for the success of “New” goes to McCartney’s four producers, especially Paul Epworth (Adele) and Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse). The other two, Giles Martin and Ethan Johns, are the sons of famous Beatles producers George Martin and Glyn Johns.

While the multiproducer approach could have resulted in a hot mess, the end result is surprisingly cohesive, modern-sounding and, most of all, fun to listen to.

By Scott Bauer, Associated Press