Friday, March 14, 2008

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash

Four Hundred Forty-Six Words: I've been dreading this review, somehow afraid that it'll ruin the affinity for which I hold Stephen Malkmus and his former band, Pavement. It was clear to me once I was able to listen to a continuous stream of the record (thanks to a pre-order promotion) that the album was not up to snuff. But I tried to listen to it over and over, hoping that it would either get better or I would finally discover why this SM release is genius. Sadly, I couldn't.

It kind of sucks.

While driving through rural Misery, it did occur to me why Malkmus' work, particularly while fronting Pavement, has overachieved to having a permanent spot in indie lore. His songs are often just mid-tempo rock songs with unconventional structures, poor drumming, off-tune whining, and cryptically interesting lyrics. Somehow, this formula worked, mostly because it was completely opposite of anything on the radio.

Real Emotional Trash only has a few of the mentioned elements: the songs are almost exclusively mid-tempo. The structures are pretty conventional. The drumming is actually on time and the singing is off-tune enough. The lyrics are sort of cryptic, but they're not very interesting (much like this review).

What's different? Well, probably for the first time since Pavement's first release (1989's Slay Tracks (1933-1969)), Malkmus actually collaborated with his fellow band mates. From seeing SM and the Jicks a couple of times, it is easy to see how the music evolves from a place of unconventionality to one of classic rock conventions. Proficient, democratic bands tend to make rather boring music.

Of course, I mostly blame the new drummer, Janet Weiss. Don't get me wrong. Weiss has to be one of my top-5 favorite drummers of all-time. The problem is that she's too good. The band is too tight and that usually leads to jamming and that's almost always bad. Pavement drummers were always mediocre at best, and that gave the band that unpolished, DIY feel that made them so endearing to their fans. The Jicks are just too good. Artistic proficiency typically means boring art and this album is so boring.

The other thing that has changed is Malkmus' entrance into parenthood. The spawn have left him boring and safe, two of the worst words ever used in describing a rock star. I fear that the same will happen to me as the fetus forms in R's belly as I write this post. I don't think parenthood necessarily means boringness, but it hasn't helped Real Emotional Trash one bit.

The album's not horrible. It's just a letdown coming from one of my heroes, but I can forgive him for this one...just this one.

The one song that makes it worth $17.95: "Gardenia"

Pitchfork Says: 6.8

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