Monday, March 24, 2008

Album Review:
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash

(Matador; 2008)

Score: 71.2%

[mp3]"Cold Son" (via Matador Records website)

I've been sitting here, writing, deleting, re-writing, editing, deleting, and writing again for what seems like days now. I have to come clean, I have absolutely nothing poignant to say about Stephen Malkmus' latest solo record (and second with the Jicks). One thing I can say with certainty, however, is that if Stephen Malkmus isn't already regarded as indie-rock's reigning guitar God, then he's sure giving Doug Marsch a run for his money.

Real Emotional Trash is in many ways a lot like the first record he made with the Jicks, but with even more guitar solos. This ought to have been good news for
fans of Pig Lib's foray into jam-band territory like myself, but unfortunately the addition of even more noodling guitar solos do not equate greatness. By the time you reach "Baltimore," an excellent track to be sure, you start to wonder if the jams are ever going to end. They do, eventually, on the album's final two tracks, but if you made it that far I assume you're a far more patient person than myself or sleeping with someone in the band.

That was harsh, so let me rephrase.

Real Emotional Trash is truly a musical beast, it pummels you with riffs and guitar solos right from the very beginning, and continues to do so through most of the album. Occasionally you get a little keyboard thrown in, which at times makes me think of the Jicks as indie rock's version of The Doors, but overall Trash is Malkmus' playground. And that's cool; Malkmus can certainly handle his own on the axe, and its not like the Jicks are not merely some crack band of studio musicians he just picked up on the side of the road in Oregon (remember, Janet Weiss is their drummer now).

The problem is in the album's variety, or should I say its lack thereof. As I alluded to above, Pig Lib had its share of guitar solos and jam-outs for sure, but it also had goofy songs about an "escort" from Queens that attracted the attention of former Senator Bob Packwood, a awkward love square (as opposed to a triangle) in which poor William wanted Leroy (but Leroy was straight), not to mention songs about Oysters, a rock 'n roll man from Netherlands who rocked a bit like a Zephyr (and a bit like the Jicks), and buried in the middle of it all is one of Malkmus' best songs, solo or otherwise, in "Animal Midnight," which, on the surface, sounds like a break-up song (and a damn good one at that). Lyrics aside, it also deftly switched from Wilco-esque studio masterpieces, sunburned 70's AM radio rock/pop, and, yes, lengthy jams that just begged to be heard while stoned. With less variety, Trash gets a little bogged down by its own indulgence, and ultimately suffers a little bit as a result. The album's still good, and just about any song will do in a pinch, but as a whole the album its not the potentially Best Album of 2008 like I had hoped when "Baltimore" first hit the net several months back.
No worries though, Malkmus has worse albums in his solo catalog (the debut album comes to mind) and he's bounced back before, so here's hoping he'll get the shredding out of his system in time for album number five.

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