Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Jesse Malin- bar band dreamer

It took me a while to figure out why we music scribes love the Hold Steady so much but it finally occurred to me while I was thinking up some Pazz and Jop comments.

"Why is the Hold Steady a constant critical favorite? Because Craig Finn is wordy and nerdy- he can't stop blabbing about music. In other words, he's one of us."

I mean, how else do you explain that they get so much more love than Jesse Malin, who's basically doing the same thing? Both he and HS mythologize the working class world as Springsteen has for decades. The big difference is that HS honcho Finn is more whip-smart than Malin and self-referential, which again makes him a natural to be a scribe-hero.

I didn't take Malin seriously until recently anyway. I thought that his early 90's rock band D Generation were the perfect example why there wasn't a respectable NYC music scene during that decade. Even when he went solo in the new millennium, I thought that his down-and-out beautiful-loser stance was shtick that I couldn't take seriously so I shelved his first album (2003's The Fine Art of Self-Destruction) and pretty much ignored the follow-up (2004's This Heat). After parting company with maverick label Artemis, I wasn't exactly dying to hear what he had up his sleeve now but mainly because a few writers I know and respect did see something in him, I decided that I should at least give his latest a listen.

I was so shocked at how good the recent Glitter in the Gutter (Adeline Records) is that I actually wondered if there was another artist named Jesse Malin out there. It turned out it was the same guy and I was going to have to swallow a bunch of my prejudices in a hurry.

Though he still peddles the noble-loser myth around, now he just sounds so forthright and confident and just plain hooky that I started to believe not just in his songs but also in Malin himself. When Springsteen himself appears, it's one of the those soggy ballads that the Boss can't help indulging in sometimes and the Replacements cover ("Bastards of Young") should have been an easy score for Malin but instead he turns it into an ironic, deflated dirge that doesn't quite work.

Just about everything else on the record works though, sounding like the kind of ironically cheery anthems about sad folks that Springsteen chronicles (or chronicled) so well. The defiant "Don't Let Them Take You Down" starts things off, followed by "In the Modern World" which sounds like the great heartland hit that John Mellancamp can't write anymore, followed by the Diddley-rhythm of the happy-go-lucky "Tomorrow Tonight." After the Boss song, Malin rights himself with the ringing guitars and pounding beats of "Prisoners of Paradise" (which includes a "My Sharona" rip and recovers well from its silly title). "Black Haired Girl" has Dylan's son (the guy from the Wallflowers) on backing vocals and quotes "River Deep Mountain High" and "American Pie" and brings back fond memories of "Brown Eyed Girl"- does this guy know his history or what? "Love Streams" sounds like folkie version of a Motown song and has this as its printed lyrics: "Doo doo doo etc.." And so it goes, leaving one to wonder "what the hell is there not to love about this guy?"

So, I was dead wrong about him. Malin's made a great record and I'm looking forward to seeing him live. I don't smoke but I'll hold up a lighter when he plays tunes from Glitter and I swear I won't be yelling for "Free Bird," much less the Boss.

Labels: , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesse is a legend. I have fine art, heat and glitter albums and they just get better. See thi guy live if you get the chance at all he's awesome!

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesse Malin makes you wonder on what basis people become rich and famous, and on what basis leaves talent like his unrecognised. Jesse is great in many ways that modern acts are not. He could push himself and be even better though. I feel like he a complex, layered artist who hasn't pulled out his best yet. I look forward to seeing how he does.

5:30 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home