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Pop reviews — Week of Nov. 3

Lightning Bolt

Pearl Jam

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. 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 2009’s 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-along 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. 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 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 and ballads Sleeping By Myself, Yellow Moon and Future Days, which will provide plenty of opportunities for fans to trek to the bar at upcoming gigs.

Pearl Jam’s recent albums have started with a bang, but ended with a whimper and Lightning Bolt is no exception. As Eddie Vedder intones on Getaway, “Sometimes you find yourself being told to change your ways — there’s no way.”

— Matthew Kemp

Associated Press

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy

Helen Fielding

Time has dulled Bridget Jones.

It has also left her neither wiser, more relaxed nor comfortable with the person she’s become and her friends.

That’s both good and bad because in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, the British heroine — whose sense of self was so strong and entertaining in the first two novels that it created an archetype of self-determination belaboring amusing bouts of self-confidence — is lost amid social media, parental responsibility and trying to impress the moms at school.

So how is Bridget Jones at 51? Content in marriage to Mark Darcy? Having quit smoking, raising two children and avoiding the trap of being a smug married woman?

In a word, no. Darcy is dead and Bridget is a single mother to their two children, dating a man around half her age while her best mates find themselves vacillating between adult responsibility and living their lives in the unfettered way they used to.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Bridget Jones’s Diary was published in 1996, vaulting Fielding from freelance reporter to one of Britain’s most popular writers. The 1999 sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, continued Bridget’s tales. But it seems that fear of being a 51-year-old single parent raising two young children in the age of social media is too much for her.

Fielding strives to add relevance to her character’s life and all of its foibles and mishaps. It’s just not enough, though not for lack of trying. Perhaps that’s an echo of the time that Bridget and her readers live in, with the short bursts of information, a focus on the quick and a general intolerance for taking time to do things.

— Matt Moore

Associated Press

Drinks After Work

Toby Keith

Toby Keith opens his new album Drinks After Work with a song that uses the hip-hop rhythms dominating contemporary country music these days. At age 52, and in his 20th year as a country star, Keith makes it work for him.

He simply applies the updated rhythms to his typical macho style, filling the lyrics of Shut Up and Hold On with sly wit and double entendres that will upset feminists but entertain Keith’s working-class fan base.

From there, the Oklahoman slips into his wheelhouse, mixing macho come-ons (Show Me What You’re Workin’ With) with philosophical slices of life (I’ll Probably Be Out Fishin’) and party tunes about escaping 9-to-5 drudgery (the title cut) — all set to guitar-driven country rock.

What amazes is how consistently Keith hits high marks on Drinks After Work, despite releasing an album annually since 2005. The reliability comes from Keith’s knack for creating new material that fits his big-shouldered, swaggering persona, with help from a well-established crew of co-writers (Scotty Emerick, Bobbie Pinson and Rivers Rutherford).

From the easy acoustic swing of The Last Living Cowboy to the wistful idealism of Before We Knew They Were Good to the contemplative romance of Little Miss Tear Stain, these songs represent a veteran country star who remains at the top of his game.

— Michael McCall

Associated Press


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