Stephen Malkmus Moved Beyond Pavement In The New Millennium

I had barely gotten into the list of albums released in 2001 before I knew which album I wanted to write about. Sure, I kept looking at the list so I could say things like, “Oh yeah, American Hi-Fi is a band that existed” and, “’Drops of Jupiter’ came out in 2001? It wasn’t, like 1997?” I could have written about Emma Bunton breaking free of being Baby Spice. I would have nothing to say, but I could do it. Ultimately, though, I knew I would be writing about Stephen Malkmus’ self-titled album, his first after the dissolution of Pavement.

OK, so technically the album is credited to Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, his long-time backing band. Malkmus is fairly magnanimous about making sure the Jicks get credit. On the other hand, come on dude. You called your album Stephen Malkmus. This is clearly his album.

Pavement is my favorite band. I don’t listen to them a ton these days, but that’s because I like to stay up with what’s new. I had the first three Pavement albums on CD back in the days of CDs in cars. I’ve heard Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain front to back like 50 times. I don’t watch The Simpsons every week but it’s still my favorite show. They broke up before I started listening to them, so I didn’t have to navigate through that, but I was a huge fan before I ever checked out what Malkmus decided to do after leaving Pavement (and also largely Silver Jews) behind.

Stephen Malkmus is not great. The only Pavement album it is on a level with is Terror Twilight, the band’s final album which sounds like a band’s final album. Still, I like it. Does it sound like Pavement? Not always. It’s more languid. It’s almost circuitous. Malkmus meanders. He doesn’t yell much. Acoustic guitars show up. Stephen Malkmus definitely says to the world, “I am not making Pavement music anymore.”

Some of the songs are a little goofy. On the other hand, “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” is pretty classic. It’s definitely a departure from Pavement, because the lyrics make sense. It tells a story and everything!

Malkmus (and the Jicks) have released seven albums. In the last couple years he’s left the Jicks behind and released two of what he calls solo albums. Honestly, I gave up on the Jicks a while ago, and I have barely heard anything from Malkmus’ solo stuff. He’s a 55-year-old man who has been making music since the late ‘80s. There’s a reason why musicians tend to taper off. It’s hard to keep the energy and drive going. Directors and writers don’t fall off like musicians do. I get older, but the people making good music stay the same age.

I love Pavement, and I love Malkmus’ work in Pavement. It would have been great if his work with the Jicks could have been on the same level. That would be asking too much, though. Stephen Malkmus showed there was still something left in the tank. It just couldn’t pack the same punch. Off came those awful toe rings.

About Chris Morgan

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