BY ED KING ROCK EXPERT I’ve been looking forward to this one for a couple of years, since a friend turned me onto Malkmus’ last album, Face the Truth. I haven’t anticipated an artist’s next release like this one for some time. My hope and optimism are bound to let me down. Here goes!
“Dragonfly Pie”: I’m digging the rumbling fuzz guitars and the overall sinister vibe as this one gets underway. Wait a second! It’s getting light and airy, with falsetto singing and a cheap electric piano sound. Ah, back to the distorted, double-stop guitar licks and the sloppy buzzing sound. Truth be told, this is a pretty lame song, but so many modern albums start out with sloppy mood pieces. Shoot, he’s back to the falsetto-$20 electric keyboard chorus, but now he’s back to the the simplistic, mind-and-string-bending solos I so crave. Dig those analog synth noodlings. All right, ended just in time.
“Hopscotch Willie”: This song title scares me. I’m sensing a Steely Dan song of some sort, maybe by way of Frank Zappa. So far this one’s meandering along in a poor man’s Steely Dan way. The song is still young, though. There’s plenty of time for some fuzzed-out string bending. Here’s a different kind of solo, more ’70s, a bit like the solo in Face the Truth‘s super “No More Shoes.” One big difference: the slight “Hopscotch Willie” tune surrounding the solo doesn’t go anywhere. Patience, Ed, patience… Now the song has broken down to a little rickety piano and vocal section before Malkmus takes it into some almost Santana-like jamming. Come on, man, I’ve been counting on this album.
“Cold Son”: This song may grow on me. It’s a bit stilted with a smooth chorus stuck between all the jagged edges. Don’t know what else to make of it on first listen.
“Real Emotional Trash”: Ooh, the title track promises something special! It starts out delicately, the tension building ever so slightly only to get sidetracked by some pretty chord or melodic twist. I’m telling you, though, it’s going to kick any minute now. Ah, listen to those tasty guitar runs. “Daddy’s on the run…” Can you feel it building? Yeah, check out this dual-guitar climb, like the gateway to some extended Television-esque jam. Yeah, baby! Stomp on those effects boxes, play that guitar! Blurp blurp blurp blurp goes my bong. “I’m gonna start doing something with my life, mannnn!” Now the wah-wah pedal has been initiated! Blurp blurp blurp blurp… Pick up the pace, a chooglin’ piano is playing what sounds like The Doors’ “L.A. Woman”! Malkmus is back on vocals, singing of “Frisco” and other Doors-worthy nonsense. This is what I need! Now another dual-guitar solo segment kicks in, this one in a scale that The Allman Brothers might play. I think it’s winding down. I’m fried, man. Tender section, like something Lou Reed and Robert Quine might have played on The Blue Mask. Wonder if they stuck stereo mics on a Styrofoam dummy’s head?
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“Out of Reaches”: This album is taking shape for me now. This track is allowing my buzz to settle down a bit before a majestic little chorus lifts my spirits out of that prowling “L.A. Woman” vibe I was left with after the title track. Blurp blurp blurp blurp… I gotta put this one on that mix tape I’ve been meaning to make. Dig the electric piano fuzz-wah solo with the second, out-of-sync fuzz-wah guitar joining in. OK, now I’m getting a bit antsy. Winding down just in time…
“Baltimore”: This song’s in some kind of 6/8 sea-farin’ time. I’m nota big fan of this time signature. Makes me think of fish sticks and that Procul Harum album cover, Salty Dog. Even the dual-fuzztone guitar solos sound cliched to this beat. Are drummers incapable of doing anything new with this time signature? Are songs incapable of taking surprising turns in this time signature? Wait! The band is shifting into some kind of KinksKoda in 4/4 time. Yeah, it’s the same song — I had to check. Now it sounds like we’re havin’ a rave up with the Jicks. When I see him in March, will this be the point when I’m getting, like, totally into the show, or will it be the time when I’m looking around the room feeling down on humanity and myself?Mmmmm… Let’s move along, now, kids. Your long-jam quota is running low.
“Gardenia”: Here’s a jaunty pop number with bop-bop-ba-da backing vocals and bizarre lyrics that, I sense, do not match the upbeat arrangement of the song. Pretty cool.
“Elmo Delmo”: This song’s a set-up for a tightly arranged, killer guitar solo, isn’t it? Jam quota is running low, Stephen. Watch it — do I hear some “Lucky Man” (ELP) synth creeping in alongside the airplane hanger guitar solo? Guitar: you must overcome the ELP synth! My ability to wait out this song depends on your dominance. OK, nice work guitar. Here comes some hippie harmony vocal segment to capture my interest again. Now the vocals are justifying the song’s silly title by — what else — chanting “Elmo Delmo” over and over. Now here’s more atmospheric guitar and analog synth noodling on the fade. Eh.
“We Can’t Help You”: This one’s setting me up for something slightly profound. Either that or a kick-ass guitar solo. Now a happy Paul McCartney-style piano has entered the mix. This one’s going places I haven’t expected. I’m still putting my money on the kick-ass guitar solo. But here comes Linda McCartney singing some la-la parts again. And that’s it? I’m cool with that one.
“Wicked Wanda”: If you had to choose the title for a song parodying Stephen Malkmus in some futuristic indie rockumentary “Wicked Wanda” might be magic. So far this is following the expected formula. This sounds like one of those trippy, stop-and-start Buffalo Springfield songs minus the explorations of Native American mythology. Blurp blurp blurp blurp… Would she get the right message if I included this one on the mix tape?