New CD reviews: Pearl Jam, Scotty McCreery

  • Updated: October 19, 2013 - 2:00 PM

POP/ROCK

Pearl Jam, “Lightning Bolt” (Monkeywrench)

“All the demons used to come round,” Eddie Vedder sings in “Future Days,” the ballad that closes Pearl Jam’s 10th studio album. “I’m grateful now they’ve left.” Well, not entirely: Pearl Jam still needs something to brood about.

“Lightning Bolt” is Pearl Jam’s current answer to the open question of how to create honest rock as a grown-up. Vedder continues to ponder and agonize: this time, often, over mortality and faith. “Go to Heaven, that’s swell/ How you like your living in Hell?” he taunts in the punky “Mind Your Manners.” He warns humanity against arrogance and shortsightedness in “Infallible.” In the eerie, gorgeous “Pendulum,” Vedder sings about looming despair. But he also finds euphoria, a oneness with Nature and spirit, in “Swallowed Whole.”

“Lightning Bolt” is not as raw or reckless as the music Pearl Jam made in the 1990s; it also trades away the rough-and-ready sound of Pearl Jam’s 2009 album, “Backspacer.” With producer Brendan O’Brien, Pearl Jam now offers some of the most unrepentantly pretty arrangements in the band’s entire catalog. “Sirens,” an apologetic love song, has the sheen of “Hotel California.”

Whether he’s singing a ballad or a rocker, Vedder carefully outlines the melodies, no matter how worked up he gets (and he does). Even when the music goes hurtling forward, in hard-riffing songs such as “Getaway,” “My Father’s Son” and the album’s peak, “Lightning Bolt” itself, what comes across is the teamwork of musicians who have been working in tandem for decades. They’re grown-ups with fewer demons and more polish, but they’re still pushing themselves.

JON PARELES, New York Times

COUNTRY

Scotty McCreery, “See You Tonight” (Mercury/Interscope)

In 2011, McCreery was fresh off a win on “American Idol” and eager to ingratiate himself with the moms and daughters who presumably propelled him to victory. The result, as heard on “Clear as Day,” was a comically innocent vision of teenage courtship in America: “We shared a Coca-Cola,” he sang, “sittin’ on a log.”

Two years later, McCreery, now 20, is a bona-fide country star, which means freedom to choose one constituency or the other. And on “See You Tonight,” he aims for the daughters in a big way, putting his sturdy baritone to work in songs that propose hooking up in an impressive variety of settings, from his truck (“Get Gone With You”), to the beach (“Feelin’ It”) to “up on top of Kill Devil Hill” (“Now”). In “I Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend,” one of five tunes he co-wrote, McCreery even corrects for some nice-guy mistakes from his past. The boy-next-door has definitely left the building.

Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times

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