Review Summary: Malkmus hasn't missed a beat.
When seminal indie rock group Pavement imploded in 1999, the hearts of their young, ever-devoted fans opened up like the tears in their jeans and the holes in their socks. Y2K came, with these very same heartbroken teenagers clutching their Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain vinyls in the fearful claustrophobia of their makeshift basement bomb shelters, and eventually it passed without so much as a stir. The new decade was upon them and with it a terrifying question loomed like a cartoon anvil over their checkered shirt torsos; a new decade without Pavement?
Nobody knew what to do with themselves anymore. Sonic Youth have a new album, they shouted hastily, to which the rest of them laughed with a tragic, knowing whimper. They’d already heard “Renegade Princess”. These were dark times and just as they began to breathe out a collective, hope-drained sigh, a silhouette appeared out of the floating haze, and from his mouth came the familiar lazy Sunday drawl that these starry eyed kids would have recognized anywhere. Stephen Malkmus had returned for them.
7 years, 3 albums and a backing band (the ever-solid Jicks) later, Real Emotional Trash marks the continuing solo prosperity of the former Pavement figurehead and he’s not lost any of that stoner charm. Like the best of his ‘90s exploits, he continues to write songs that play with an intuitive edge and unlike those glory days, there’s no one in the mix but him and accordingly, Malkmus lets every whim and idea gush out, brushing aside restraint like an unwanted companion. Real Emotional Trash is indulgent and scattershot and brilliant in a way only he could conjure.
The record feels like the clumsy mix of fifty-percent jam band, fifty-percent Pavement, and fifty-percent effortless, stoner meandering, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t an album and a half. “Willie was found not far from the scene / He was panting like a pitbull / minus the mean”, Malkmus sings as the 7-minute, slacker anthem “Hopscotch Willie” comes to its end, signifying the logical next step in his solo career; an evolution from the four-minute easygoing ditty to the fleshed out six, seven, and ten minute jams. Title track “Real Emotional Trash” is the quintessential example of that: a ten-minute aimless foray into abstract lyrics (“Down in Sausalito / We had clams for dessert”) and drum rolls and in the end it feels wonderfully homey, like the appeal of a ragged old armchair.
That’s the real driving force behind it all, Malkmus sounds like an old friend and one that you welcome back with a sloppy grin. This rambling old troubadour is still, 20 years since his introduction, simply irresistible.