Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Mirror Traffic (Matador/Domino)
The list of songwriters who did their best work after leaving their original band is a short one. There’s Peter Gabriel. [You crazy fool! – Genesis-hating Ed] There’s, um … George Michael? Joe Walsh? There’s probably a reason for this. As long as Paul McCartney was in The Beatles, he had to live up to being a Beatle. But as Paul McCartney? Well shit, anything he recorded would live up to being Paul McCartney. And the same thing’s probably true with Stephen Malkmus. Not to say that a Pavement reunion would produce anything better, I just think an artist’s ‘solo career’ is always going to be underwhelming to some extent.
‘Tune Grief’ has some good energy; in some places it’s almost fun. But it doesn’t move me. Is it my fault? The album goes on for over 50 minutes, most of it wandering from one place to another without ever really accomplishing anything. You need Mirror Traffic the way the ocean needs more salt. It’s about as necessary as a manual typewriter, and every bit as interesting to listen to. It has the same vigor, the same sense of purpose, the missionary zeal, of a grey turd floating in a bathtub.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with ambiguity. I keep listening to Mirror Traffic (decent title, by the way — giving credit where credit is due), but I hear vagueness instead of mystery. Instead of a beguiling labyrinth, I’m simply trapped in a room with too much furniture and not enough art. There’s moments every so often — they last for 15 seconds or so — that make me think Malkmus may have something (ahem) left in the tank, that he may still possess some of the genius he once flung around so casually and endlessly in his youth. Hell, maybe he just needs to go back and listen to The Fall instead of Smog or The Sea And Cake, or whatever the fuck he listens to these days. But this album isn’t even close to genius. Not by a long shot. At its best, the album is pleasant. And there’s too much goddamn great music out there for us to waste our time on things that are merely pleasant.
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