I'm The First Person to Ever Think of That Joke Before
At some point in his career as lead singer/songwriter/guitarist for independent rock band Pavement, Stephen Malkmus became the smarmiest performer in the U.S.A. Seemingly forsaking his original goal to make good creative new guitar-driven songs, he began to focus more and more on being "Wacky Steve" Malkmus. At first, it was an amusing counterpoint to his amazing pop songwriting ability. But with each new album, as his musical ideas became more and more repetitive and samey, the half-assed goofiness suddenly became a MAJOR part of his sound, simply because there was so little else for the long-time listener to latch onto. And the goofiness is NOT charming or witty - it's Thurston-Moore-stupid. Which is about ten or eleven rungs lower than Ray-Stevens-stupid on the ladder to Hell.
I thought and hoped that "S.M." had fulfilled his urge to irritate on Pavement's Brighten The Corners, which was filled to the rim with odiously (and PURPOSELY) out-of-key yell/singing, oodles of musical references to dumb `70s bands, and moronically silly lyrics, even by his standards. For example, on first listen, the line "What about the voice of Geddy Lee? How did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy!" seems kooky and hilarious, but when you actually analyze the lyric, you realize that the only reason it seemed entertaining in the first place is because "Geddy Lee" is by its very nature a ridiculous thing to say in a song. It was a simple joke, just like all of Malkmus's). But of course he hadn't gotten his fill. He did it again (to a lesser extent, thank GOD) on the last Pavement album, and he does it way foo tuckin' much on this, his first solo opus.
Mr. Malkmus IS still perfectly capable of writing a great song. He's never made an album that is completely devoid of amazing melodies, and likely never will. He honestly DOES have an ear and hand for a good little tune. But the picks are slimming rapidly, with this baby being by far his least inspired release yet. The lead-off track "Black Book" is the best - a terrific, strong heavily-guitared (3? 4? Lots of different tones in that mix!) dark, cool riff wherein an electric drone lead wavers atop some excellent picking. And it sounds completely SERIOUS. Off the subject - I know that some of you are thinking to yourself, "But Mark - your reviews AND your own homemade music that you record are BOTH full of really bad jokes that dilute the overall content and make the good ideas seem really few and far between." This is true - HOWEVER, the important difference here is that you aren't writing this review. I am. So fuck off.)
"Church On White" is another winner, built upon surprisingly pretty country-western guitarwork. Heck, one song is even great BECAUSE of the off-the-wall musical antics taking place within; the tiny side-two-opener "Troubbble" is a masterpiece of toy pianos, hilariously stupid wah-wah guitar noises, moog synthesizer zoops and other trinkets in San Diego. I don't know why it works in this one case - maybe because the song itself is BUILT upon funny noises, rather than just piled atop a normal guitar song. But the rest of the album is either ruined by Smugness or just listless and bland. Ha ha! Aren't those background shouts of "OH!" in "Phantasies" just the funniest? Oh! Ho ho! How about that hilarious falsetto "la-la-la" chorus in "Jo Jo's Jacket," not to mention those wacky, irreverent lyrics about - GET THIS - an actor from the movie Westworld? HEEEEEEEEEEE! And "Vague Space"? Don't get me started on all that zany annoying noise permeating through the otherwise pretty song! And those unbelievably annoying wah-wah guitar noises he keeps throwing in all the songs? They become more and more hip-hollering hilarible every single goddamned time he does them!!!!
And boring? Eh. yeah. I mean, if you've never heard the last few Pavement albums, mellow c/w-style things like "Pink India" and "Deado" might sound pretty nice. But he's doing nothing on here that he hasn't done better before. The vocal melodies aren't that good, the guitarwork is unsurprising - I DO get the feeling that he's TRYING. I just don't think he managed to come up with many memorable melodies this time around. So the overall effect is of a bad comedy album - the first bad album of this genre to ever be released! But there's always next time. There's also a different atmosphere in the world today - hopefully, the current depression we are all experiencing has affected this Dick so he knocks off all the UNFUNNY bullshit next time.
It's like I've been saying the whole time - Mark Ibold was the genius of Pavement.
You say, 'For example, on first listen, the line "What about the voice of Geddy Lee? How did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy!" seems kooky and hilarious, but when you actually analyze the lyric, you realize that the only reason it seemed entertaining in the first place is because "Geddy Lee" is by its very nature a ridiculous thing to say in a song.'
But I would have to say that the only reason it seemed entertaining in the first place is because right after your quote ends, Mark Ibold says, "I know him, and he does," to which Malkmus replies, "Then you're my fact-checking cuz." That lyric is so good that he actually pauses for 12 whole measures to let it sink in before you're confronted by the song's sudden metamorphosis into the Rad.
Pig Lib. Liberation of the PIgs. What does the author mean by this tawdry _expression of effortlessly tossed off malevolence? Perhaps he means to suggest that all women are pigs. Or that we should deliver equal rights to our friends in the animal kingdom. Perhaps we shall never know exactly what is coursing through the ever-circulating brain waves of Mr. Stephen Malkmus. But one thing's for certain: Half the time it sucks!
Stephen has toned down the smarminess overall, though he still his moonments. The real problem is that half of the album sounds like he put a lot of effort into creating new, original slacker guitar creations and the other half is the "Same Old Shit" (S.O.B.) that he's been doing over and over since Slanty-Eyed And College Granty-Eyed wowed a generation of students way back in 19919991991991999199919. How many times has he written that midtempo gentle little song with the meandering vocal line and simplistic little chord changes (with or without silly keyboard tones on top)? For that matter, how many times did Lou Reed write it when he was in the Velvet Boringestbandofalltimeground? Answer: A Baker's Dozen -- and by "Baker," I mean "SHIT!"
But let's look on the good side. Malkmus DOES try to interject some interesting new elements to spruce up half of these songs, and it's always a special day to hear him do that. I mean, he's NOT an untalented songwriter by any means. He plays the guitar really well too (check out all the neat note flibbling he does on here! He's finger-riffic!).
Let me name a few of the songs, since our society forces us into such constricting concepts as "names" and "not pulling out your ding-dong at the Dairy Queen anymore." "Water And A Seat" has an insane slow down-speed up rhythm -- while Steve's trying to sing to it! "Do Not Feed The Oyster" has a rubbery bent string part after each line! "Animal Midnight" has a high-pitched melody with really pretty chords and a nice big Pink Floyd keyboard. Sorry if I disappointed you by not putting an exclamation point after that one, but my monitor is running out of ink. "Dark Wave" sounds like early Frank Black (bouncy, spastic sci-fi), "Witch Mountain Bridge" seems to tell a story with the music -- the beats follow his vocals, there are lots of odd little breaks and it's DARK! Remember Escape From Witch Mountain? Eddy Arnold does! He had four illegitimate kids on the set of that movie! And finally, "Us" appears to be a happy little duet with a woman, much like Peter Gabriel's album of the same name except that was about his divorce I think so there weren't any happy little duets, especially not with women. In fact, I'm told that Peter Gabriel hasn't spoken to a woman since his divorce. Which is appropriate since no woman has spoken to a Peter Gabriel fan since the dawn of time.
But enough of my wisecrackin'. Let's get down to serious business: The business of what this sounds like. It sounds like a guy playing a clean toned guitar, concentrating mainly on notes and arpeggios, with a strummy guitar, bass/drums and occasional keyboard playing along as well, and quite often an electric guitar soloing lazily and uglily on top of everything. And a singer who keeps alternating between pretty, mellow singing and obnoxious out-of-tune yelling and nonsense. Like he's capable of creating the most beautiful music in the world, but is afraid that his friends will make fun of him and call him a "fag" if he does, so instead he slightly ruins everything by joking around too much.
If you've ever heard Pavement, you won't be shocked by his amateurish attitude. It used to not matter because his songwriting was so consistent, but he's just written so many songs now -- by HIMSELF -- that they "can't all be zingers" anymore (unless he waited a few more years between each album to come up with more songs -- but how the hell could he make a living with THAT kind of work ethic?).
Let me say this -- if you still consider Pavement an amazing band, you'll probably love half of this album. The rest you can fast-forward over. Because that's what people do when they don't like all the songs on their favorite artist's new cassette tape.
Your send thing on the site is not particularly friendly with Deustche TCom. Anyways, in reference to Malkmus'/Jinks Pig Lib...
This is someone doing their best version of Television. Something I always suspected with Pavement but never really heard til now. It's not great. But it's pretty good. Worth a buy defenitely these days only if to sponsor someone who is atleast trying to grow a bit...This is a transitional album. Im relatively optimistic about the next effort.
Thanks for the site and the effort. Viel Gluck
I guess you've all heard by now that Michael Jackson was declared Not Guilty of screwing a baby. I know we all have our own opinions regarding his guilt or innocence, and maybe we'll never know the truth about what happened in that bedroom. I tend to think he didn't do it, but the little boy I sleep with thinks he's guilty so who's to say?
Which brings up a question that I'm sure we've all asked ourselves for months, but it bears repeating: exactly how shitty a parent do you have to be to let your child sleep over at the house of a creepy old man with no nose who was ALREADY ACCUSED of molesting little kids just a few years ago!? What did they THINK was going to happen? And you have to imagine that they wouldn't have green lighted their kid sleeping with just ANY horrifying pasty creature that's incapable of having a normal heterosexual relationship, so the key must be money and fame. See, if a man is rich and famous, he CAN'T be a child molester. So it's OKAY to let your cancer-ridden toddler sleep with his ding-dong in the man's mouth.
But wait! Exactly how rich and famous does this brain-addled miscreant have to be for you to let your child parade around his house ass-naked with beer? Is Pete Townshend famous enough? Paul McCartney? Surely Mr. Sean "Puff 'P. Diddy' Daddy" Combs is sufficiently famous to rub his sleepy brown pipe against your little boy's innocent pink tushy. So why is Michael Jackson the only celebrity who has earned this prestigious honor?
BECAUSE HE'S THE ONLY ONE THAT'S INSANE ENOUGH TO WANT IT, YOU FUCKING IDIOTS!!!
Not that any of the parents I'm addressing are planning to read my Stephen Malkmus reviews. Or anything else with words.
Which brings us back again to the topic with which we began - Stephen Malkmus's third and finest solo album.
Stephen Malkmus. What is he and where does he begin? Will he release 40 billion solo albums like Lou Reed until Pavement is remembered only as "that boring first band he was in"? I don't know, nobody does. Nobody but ME! And this album. I'll ask you once and one time only -- why does "SM" like dumb wiggly woobly synth and guitar noises so much? Do they make him laugh? And if so, does that mean that he is a novelty artist? As a rule, I go out on my limb to support artists who bring previously unheard aural tones into their popular music, but Stephen's preferred cutesy, stupid effects are UGLY! And ANNOYING! I guess we have to chalk it up to his ears being blown out by all of those years rockin' the nation in The World's Loudest Band, Pavement of "Zurich Is Stained" fame. Still.......
....half of this album is just fantastic. Maybe he listened to the Pavement records recently and was reminded of how much better music sounds when it's not just a bunch of goofy dicking around bullshit? Whatever the case, he brings such warmth and melodicism (prettiness!) to the folk-country "I've Hardly Been," "Loud Cloud Crowd" and "Mama" that they could easily be mistaken for a long-lost Crooked Rain-era EP. Similarly, the '70s Eagles-style dark minor-key driving jam of killer guitar overdubs "No More Shoes" rivals that really long song on Wowee Zowee for wearing out not one second of its 8-minute welcome. Likewise, fans of the poppier side of Pavement now have the fun dee-doo-dee-doo guitar lick of "Baby C'mon" and "A-a-ay! A-a-ay! A-a-a-yy!" breaks of "It Kills" to rest in their minds alongside "Cut Your Hair" and "Trigger Cut." Seriously, these six songs are enough to wipe the foul smell of his last two records right out of your mouth!
Unfortunately there are five other songs. Which means five more opportunities for Malkmus to compose worthless novelty genre exercises, destroy pleasant arpeggiated riffs with dumb woobly noises, fartinize half-decent chord changes with punch-in-the-mouthingly smug falsetto vocals, and - in perhaps the most disappointing move of all - choose the completely non-descript Malkmus-by-numbers "Post-Paint Boy" as the first single off the record. Am I a crazy guy or is it just a duller rewrite of "Major Leagues"? Why, on an album full of wonderful instant classics and in-your-face earritants (that sillier folk nevertheless might actually like) would he have chosen the utterly unremarkable "Post-Paint Boy" as the single!? WHY!? WHY!? WHY!?
Say! That reminds me of my favorite letter of the alphabet! Y! Y! Y! Stands for Yams, Yeast Infection and Yar's Revenge! Y can be used as either a consonant (Yard Sale, Yes Featuring Jon Anderson) or a vowel (Gynecology, Nyggyr), and if you learn to say your ABC's all the way up to it, all you have left is "ZZZZZZZZZZZZ!" Because you're a narcoleptic.
The bottom line is that even if you disliked, hated or absolutely LOATHED the last two Stephen Malkmus albums and the entire Pavement discography, you are going to LOVE Face The Truth, because it sounds kinda like a mixture of all of them.
Look, I never claimed to have a full understanding of the "cause-effect" concept.
On a related note, I ate a ton of beans last night so Lord knows I'm gonna be pissing in a Fallopian Tube today!
He's just so GODDAMN CLEVER.
I don't know, I don't feel like typing anymore.
Oh, and "Major Leagues"... zzz! I tried listening to that turd recently and it made me go into a coma. Just thinking about the guitar line at the moment is inducing seizures. I'm very talented, as I've learned to type while having violent seizures. "Paint Chips and Stuff, Like Windows Paint on Your Computer, You Little Boy" is a much better song.
I bet my little sister could kick his ass.
Malkmus is getting better, fact. Crooked rain x 2 and wowee zowee are undoubtedly masterpieces but you have to say that FACE THE TRUTH eclipses them both, you have to.
Sm is also one of the best guitar players I have ever seen. Unlike you mothers, I actually play the guitar and I can honestly say that songs like Witch Mountain Bridge would raise the eyebrows of the late Jimmy Hendrix.
Stop being a pathetic ‘look at me, I can slate sm ‘ saddo. Get a life and join the revolution of the greatest underdog in the music biz, the worlds best kept secret.
Infact, keep writing yourr stupid articles, SM would probably want the obscurity shadow you help to create.
why do you all love that album? I love everything Malkmus has worked on … but this album is just crap. sometimes I'm able to listen to it and even don't get annoyed but the moment "mama" begins I have to cover my ears and immediately change record.
btw. Malkmus voice is an addiction
Can anyone say how this guy is live? Good? Too sloppy? I still have not had the chance to see him since squandering the Beck/Pavement show in Houston around 1995.
Once again, thanks Mark for keeping the site going.
You know, people often ask me, "Hay Mark, you should write a book," which isn't a question, but come on I don't hang out with brain surgeons. Well, good news - that time has come today! So please enjoy these excerpts from my new book Kajagoogoo Ribticklers: 101 Jokes About Kajagoogoo, due out this Spring from Eher-Verlag Books:
Why did Kajagoogoo cross the road?
Because they were "Too Shy" to speak to an approaching fan!
What did former Kajagoogoo lead singer Christopher "Limahl" Hamill say
when he heard the 1984 Islands LP, released by his former
bandmates under their new name "Kaja"?
"It's no goo(d)goo(d)!"
How many members of Kajagoogoo does it take to screw in a light bulb?
All of them, because they're "Too Shy" to ask for assistance!
So be sure and ask for Kangaroo Gobstoppers at a bookstore near you!
In my review of Stephen Malkmus' last album, Face The Truth, I stated that the "dark minor-key driving jam of killer guitar overdubs 'No More Shoes' rivals that really long song on Wowee Zowee for wearing out not one second of its 8-minute welcome." Well, I can't remember what "No More Shoes" sounds like, but if I could - and if I found that description to be accurate - then I would say that Real Emotional Trash is an entire album of "No More Shoes"es.
This is by a wide margin the finest and least irritating album he has released since leaving Pavement. In fact, I'd say that it rivals that band's last two albums for sheer listenability. The secret? CANNING THE CUTESY BULLSHIT.
Although there are still a few la-de-da playful moments, the majority of the album is comprised of strong, serious, mature guitar-driven rock music. You can tell he's been playing a lot of guitar in his free time by the way the songs are constructed -- lengthy, with plenty of guitar breaks and 70sy hard rock riffs like he thinks he's Neil Young And Charley Horse or something. Who does he think he is, Neil Young and Crazy Train? Come on Stephen, you're not Angus Young and Mairzy Doats! That was great, that whole bit with the funny names.
Don't let me mislead you - he's as laidback as always. He's just laidback in a less cutesy, more guitar-focused way. To give you some indication of the jammin' guitar action of his vision this time out, seven of these ten songs are longer than 4:45. And yes, there are still pianos and keyboards in the mix, but at least they're mostly playing actual melodies this time rather than bubbly, childish noise.
And the songwriting is excellent. Whether concentrating on dark driving rock, melodic beauty or (the rare moments of) bouncy glee, Malkmus pieces together interesting chord changes, catchy vocal hooks and intriguing extended guitar runs in an expert manner he hasn't approached in ages. For once, it sounds like he put thought and effort into his solo work, and the results are outstanding! Three huzzahs for the former "S.M." of Pavement fame!
A few highlights of interest may include:
- the way "Dragonfly Pie" awkwardly combines a hard Mudhoney-esque blues-rock verse with a sissyboy chorus straight out of Juno
- the soaring Gilmour-esque slide guitar break in bachelor pad jam "Hopscotch Willie"
- the lovely guy/girl harmony vocals and intriguing, emotion-rich chord construction of "Wicked Wanda"
- the dark, multi-tempoed 10-minute title track, which ranks up there with "Marquee Moon" on the List Of Really Good Ten-Minute Title Tracks With Long Guitar-Focused Instrumental Sections
- the only happy-go-lucky pop song on the record, the pleasant as a spring day "Gardenia"
I don't blame you if you gave up on Malkmus' solo career long ago, but if you're a Pavement fan, you have to hear this one. It doesn't sound like Pavement per se, but it also doesn't sound like a smarmy asshole making dick noises for half an hour, so already you come out ahead. Just imagine how much aheader you'll come when you close your eyes and let its sensual sounds wash over your naked body (unless you're a guy, in which case put something on HAIRY ASS).
One warning though: you may not like it the first time through. I for example came out of my first listen thinking, "Say! That album didn't have any hooks at all!" But it does. They're just not pop hooks.
They're FISH hooks! FOR GOD'S SAKE, DON'T BITE THE DISC!!! OWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!
That's totally going in my second book.
(Fish Hilariousness: 101 Jokes Having To Do With Fish Or Fish-Related Paraphernalia)
But now for the truly important part. Although I get the Cutesy BS clever reference to 10 minute title tracks, comparing the meandering Real Emotional Trash (much more of a Sonic Youth thing) to Marquee Moon is a ridiculous stretch. SM kind of jams around and it climaxes and then kind of goes away. Marquee Moon is like the real thing when it comes to guitar music, meaning, I am pretty sure the piece was actually written to be played that way and not just loosely improvised.
And speaking of long winding guitar records by bands that start with the letter T that Malkmus owes a debt to (because the vocals are amazingly similar), how about reviewing Thin White Rope at some point. They deserve it and recently reissued the catalogue. Could actually sell a couple then.
So yea, I give the Jicks an 8. Buy it from Prindle to keep him happy.
Yeah, I'm sat here trying to be all intellectual and all, but fuck it. Listen to Elmo Delmo and Wicked Wanda and tell me you weren't MOVED! (Apologies for unfortunate but necessary capitals). Man, they are fucking wicked songs that seem to acheive what Sonic Youth have been trying to regain since 1995, actual emotional response from non-standard tuned (fuck you I'm playing this way) guitars. That's an acheivement, man. I assume that he's still using the whole Pavement tuning of C G D G B B. He may not, I dunno.
Anyhoo, as was the thrust of my opening comment, I don't usually feel compelled to force my two bits
As if a giant Space Eraser flew by the Earth and wiped out all memory of the creative advances made on his last two albums, Malkmus returns to Jick-ing around with Mirror Traffic, his overly jolly, boring and sung-like-shit fifth solo album. What happened to the lengthy guitar excursions? The maturity of advancing middle age? The songs sung in tune? Or more accurately, why is it only present in a handful of songs? Here, I'll even identify them by finger:
FOREFINGER: "No One (Is As I Are Be)," by far the finest composition on the record, slowly builds from a gentle Velvet Underground acoustic ballad into a beautiful trumpet-and-piano-enhanced piece with some of Malkmus's loveliest and most understated vocals ever.
BIRD FINGER: "Fall Away" is another heartachingly gorgeous number, boasting downright angelic group harmony vocals in its dreamy chorus.
RING FINGER: "Senator," first single "Senator," which alternates between the quirky herky-jerk japery of "I know what the Senator wants/What the Senator wants is a blow job" and a hauntingly emotional song-body of the sort you just don't expect to hear in a song with the lyric "I know what the Senator wants; what the Senator wants is a blow job."
PINKY FINGER: Great old time rock and roller "Tune Grief," which places Malkmus's voice way back in the mix, where it belongs.
THUMB FINGER: Laidback album-closer "Gorgeous Georgie" brings back fond memories of "Fillmore Jive," even if it breaks no new ground.
But that's it. I'm out of fingers and Mirror Traffic is out of great songs. The album's full-bodied, multiple-guitared mix actually makes it sound a lot like a Pavement record -- just an exceptionally disappointing one. The problem is three-fold: (1) too many bland ballads with weak hooks, (2) too many jaunty-go-lucky throwaways, and (3) truly wretched vocal performances, mostly composed of (a) singing the same notes he's playing on the guitar, (b) suddenly switching into warbly falsetto because he has yet again written a melody that exceeds his natural range, and (c) lazily half-assing his delivery so that he's just sort of talking -- yet somehow doing so off-key.
Here are some lyrics I wrote down:
"I caught you streaking in your Birkenstocks
A scary thought in the 2K's"
"Smoking weed in our truck
The cops pull up
How can they not know?"
"Too busy putzing 'round the Internet
Revel in the disconnect
The extortion is way too dear"
"Someone's giving French kiss lessons
How else will we learn to love?"
"Sweet little Sassafrass
I want you out by July"
"Poor poor Ginger
She makes an appearance again
She is sleeping with my cousin"
I've had it with lyrics. Fuck you, words. I'm never going to use you again.