Music News

Stephen Malkmus reviews his solo albums — and doesn't always give himself two thumbs up

Although Stephen Malkmus has been in the public eye for nearly two decades, he still doesn't quite have the whole self-promotion thing down. Ask his opinion of the albums he's made either under his own name or in combination with his current collaborators, the Jicks, since the breakup of Pavement, his best-known band, and he responds with either modest pride or faint praise.

Stephen Malkmus (2001): "In retrospect, it's kind of a jokey album," he says. "I'm not saying it was flimsy or anything, but there's some stuff that's not going to stand the test of time, probably.... I don't think it's particularly jaw-dropping."

Pig Lib (2003): "I certainly think that's an idiosyncratic and worthwhile record, sonically," he notes. "Some of the songs aren't fully developed in terms of the performance, but some of them are, in quite a good way. And it has sort of a classy sound that's not common by people in our genre.... So I think it's an interesting album. It's got a vibe."

Face the Truth (2005): "It's maybe more like the first album," he allows. "It had a lot of interesting, trashy sonic experiments. It's more of a garage-sounding record. I think it's got some good ideas. Maybe it's a little bit incohesive, but that's okay, too."

Real Emotional Trash (2008): "It's in that category of long, jammed-out songs. A bit more complex in a certain way. Other than that, I don't know what to say. I think it's good. It got good feedback from the intelligentsia and some of my friends. Maybe there's something there."

Obviously, Malkmus is long past the point where he feels the need to put on airs, if he ever did. Thanks to the musical tastes of Lottie, a toddler who's the older of his two daughters, he hears a lot of the Beatles' music around his Portland, Oregon, home these days. Yet he concedes that "I'm not really interested in writing the perfect boy-meets-girl pop song or something unless it's perfectly done. Because it's already been done perfectly. And I like fresh, weird imagery" — as in, for example, "Gardenia," a Real Emotional Trash cut that juxtaposes an Afrikaner candidate for mild reform and photographer Richard Avedon. "I guess I'm more interested in lyrical people, where you're invited into an original and odd mind at work."

His certainly qualifies — and in that context, he believes that even his self-titled solo debut passes muster. "If you're a fan of Pavement and me and the people in that band in particular, it's got a meaning," he says.

Whoa! Enough with the horn-blowing already. Who do you think you are — Kanye West?

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts