Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney Lead This Week's New Album Releases
Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt (Monkeywrench): Ten albums ago, Pearl Jam's debut Ten was surprisingly original but we had no way of knowing that then. Lumped in with grunge, it was closer to classic rock with funk pretensions, easily the cleanest-produced and least gritty-crunchy band of the Seattle boom, with loads of reverb and attention to rhythm (the swampy "Even Flow," the bass-propelled "Why Go"). It had a uniformity among its oceanic ballads and wah-wah-dripping rockers, but it had openings and attachments and places to go. Fast forward to 2013, and Lightning Bolt does not. It's more listenable on the whole than 2006's Pearl Jam (the "avocado" one) and 2009's front-loaded Backspacker, but it may be the band's most basic, blocky album ever, in a career that once opened up with shambolic possibility (especially 1996's Neil-damaged No Code and 1998's McCartney-flecked Yield). The hyperactive single "Mind Your Manners" is pleasant, possibly the worst thing you can say about a comb-edged punktoon that thinks it's a razor. And the best, most daring thing here is "Sirens," a six-minute power ballad. Maybe they've been listening to Miley's "Wrecking Ball" over Springsteen's.
Paul McCartney – New (HearMusic): For sure, it's weird hearing McCartney gulp like Anthony Kiedis about witches and snitches on the jaunty "Queenie Eye," but he's been batting eyes at this indie-rock generation since Nigel Godrich forced him to play all the instruments in 2005. On 2007's Memory Almost Full, he successfully made an album about aging, inverting Hot Hot Heat's anxious bounce on "Ever Present Past" and the dissonant whomp of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" on the amazing "Nod Your Head," both looking death square, if whimsically in the eye. He's starting to get the hang of this past-digging, as the best thing on New is the folksy, petulant "Early Days," which he wants us youngsters to know he lived through. There's nothing as good as "Coming Up" on this surprisingly strong power-pop album, but the harpsichord shuffle "New" and um, McCartneyesque "Save Us" successfully if predictably bridge the gap between his mastery of his own invented phrasing and recent updates like say, Spoon. Weirder is the industrial pound of "Appreciate," which sounds like Andy Partridge from XTC guesting on a recent Pet Shop Boys album. Old people, amirite?
Fall Out Boy – Pax Am Days (Island): Thirteen minutes of low-rent, Ryan Adams-produced punk have been appended to the no-longer controversial title Save Rock and Roll. Not a bad separation—when you're as normal as these suburban Chicago misfits, it can be cleansing to see how far pop you can go (and appearances from Elton to Big Sean proved Fall Out Boy had sensibilities to stretch), and then how punk they can possibly get. Patrick Stump's a goofy fit for fake early-Replacements hardcore like one-minute tantrums like "American Made," but the anthemic "Caffeine Cold" at 2:41 helps justify that "Midwestern emo revival" thing you might have intentionally ignored. See who else made the list.
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