It can be painfully obvious that Pearl Jam’s got a surfer dad as head guru in charge. Three-quarters through their muscular and tender 10th album, Eddie Vedder, now 48, jumps on the itchy, pretty ”Swallowed Whole” like a man fresh from a vision quest: ”Whisper songs inside the wind/Breathing in forgiveness/Like vibrations with no end/Feel the planet humming.” Why shouldn’t the earth move for a guy who, since the release of PJ’s last album, married the mother of his two kids and saw his crew celebrated with the Cameron Crowe doc Pearl Jam Twenty?
In fact, the band has thrived this long by heeding an oceanlike motion, shifting with crack assurance from choppy and punky to swelling and gorgeous, as if an enigmatic wind stirs it all up. Lightning Bolt hurls down a new, if unsurprising, preoccupation: mortality. Vedder wonders whether the bell tolls for him on the otherwise easygoing ”Sirens,” a piano-plunking ballad to rank with their classics, and human life itself seems to be ”tempting fate” on the album’s knotty, lovely centerpiece, ”Infallible.” That song is what every heal-the-world rock anthem should want to be when it grows up: profound enough not to pretend there’s a solution — or that life doesn’t go on. B+
(Lightning Bolt is currently streaming on iTunes)