The problem facing Pearl Jam is that for every good song on Lightning Bolt, there lurks a great one somewhere in the band's past.
That the band is reinvigorated for a second time in four years after reuniting with producer Brendan O'Brien is a welcome surprise in itself. But the inescapable fact is that each highlight on the band's 10th album comes intertwined with the memory of something better.
The exciting first single "Mind Your Manners" sounds like the better "Spin the Black Circle"; the midtempo "Sirens" lacks the hooks of "Better Man"; the rollicking "Lightning Bolt" is joyous noise in the mold of "Rearviewmirror."
The more generous comparisons are to Pearl Jam's most recent albums—not the band's fantastic first three. As far as the singles go, "Mind Your Manners" hits stronger than either "World Wide Suicide" or "The Fixer" (from 2006's Pearl Jam and 2009's Backspacer, respectively).
After 23 years, Pearl Jam shouldn't be expected to surprise. And, thankfully, Lightning Bolt remains true to the band's essence. Pearl Jam has left the trend-chasing, member shuffling and ill-advised Lou Reed collaborations to other veteran bands. Eddie Vedder even graciously went solo to indulge his ukulele impulse.
Lightning Bolt ranks in the middle for Pearl Jam, a bit below Backspacer but better than most of the band's other output in the 21st century. It's solid, at times exciting, but a bit bloated. For better or worse, Lightning Bolt is exactly what should be expected from Pearl Jam in 2013.