Dear Stephen Malkmus:
As I write this letter, I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of a package containing the expanded reissue of your former band Pavement's album Brighten The Corners. It comes with an unreleased live album (on vinyl, no less!!) that was supposed to have been released between Corners and Terror Twilight. In some strange way I think I'm looking forward to this reissue more than the other ones because, honestly, Brighten The Corners has always been my least favorite Pavement album and '96 to '98 are the era I know the least about. This had me thinking, too, about your other band, the Jicks, and the "solo" albums you've done since Pavement with them. And I realized that your first, self-titled "solo" album is my least favorite of the bunch so far but that I also am the least familiar with it.
So I decided to give it another listen and take some notes, to give some form to my feelings about the album and why I can only remember a handful of songs from it. I'm sending you this letter because I think I need to karmically balance my endless stream of love letters with some criticism.
Stephen Malkmus is a strange album. Actually, what I meant to say is, it's a confused album. You originally called it 'Swedish Reggae.' And it was supposed to be billed as simply 'The Jicks' with your name nowhere on the package. Finally, it was a self-titled "solo" release even though people stress that it's not really "solo." Except that the line-up of the Jicks keeps changing from album to album and...Yeah, see what I mean?? I really wish you had kept the original title, it was great. The use or not of the new band name doesn't matter much to me but did you really need to have a picture of yourself on the cover?? It's lazy and expected that an artist's first solo album would be both self-titled and have a picture of them on the cover. At least you didn't go the Peter Gabriel route and self-title your first four solo albums...
Trying to give concrete details of the misgivings I have for this album is tough. It's just a general sense of malaise, as if you threw everything at a wall and saw what stuck. Stephen Malkmus has some fantastic songs--'Church On White' is a brilliant psychedelic ballad, 'The Hook' is cowbell driven fun, and 'Vague Space' is a relaxed late album gem with a great chorus--but the rest stream by without much impact. 'Troubbble' is a ill-advised return to the short Pavement pieces like 'Serpentine Pad'; 'Pink India' flails around for almost six minutes in search of a direction; 'Trojan Curfew' sounds like a bad Built To Spill b-side; the best part about the overblown MOR rocker 'Discretion Grove' is the cool drum loop that opens it...The album has the feel of an artist pulled in two directions at once, toward more mannered classicist rock/pop via ballads and guitar solos but also toward the usual slew of surreal lyrics and unexpected surprises. I rarely break down an album song by song, but my lasting impression of Stephen Malkmus is that it's half great and half sub-par. It's a transitional album through and through, Mr. Malkmus (can I call you Stephen??), and while they make for interesting listens they usually aren't especially good.
I don't mean to sound overly harsh, but we're most critical of those we love. I like your first "solo" album but I don't love it. You definitely developed the nascent ideas of this release with your next three solo releases, which are all excellent. Here's hoping my package gets here today. I hope you and your family are doing well and that you have a lovely holiday season.
p.s. Any chance of a reissue for that Crust Brothers album?? For the title alone, Marquee Mark should never go out of print.
From the "you can't make this stuff up" file: the package came as I was editing this review. Weird.