It’s usually not wise to take Stephen Malkmus’s lyrics to heart, but the first lines on Real Emotional Trash read, “Of all my stoned digressions, some have mutated into the truth.” It’s an uncharacteristically self-conscious — not to mention lucid — thought from someone famous for the very non sequiturs he’s referring to, but it ends right there. A few seconds later, in between lame metal riffs, he’s singing about a dragonfly that wants a piece of pie, and all hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of a Stephen Malkmus solo record are dashed.
Since the dissolution of 90s rock paragon Pavement, Malkmus has released four solo records, all of varying quality, all pointlessly divisive among music nerds who still hold out hope that someday, some solo career will trump the band that spawned it. Trash is the second album recorded with backing band the Jicks, and the first since Janet Weiss (of the also-pretty-important Sleater-Kinney) has taken on drum duties. Her presence couldn’t be felt less, and perhaps that says something about all these beloved mainstays. Whether noodling in the background or writing the songs, these guys all know what they’re doing, and they’re content to just keep doing it, regardless of the impending threat of monotony.
In Malkmus’s case, he wanes in importance the more he leans on classic rock and stoner metal riffs. His songs have simultaneously gotten longer, sprawling with Doors-y jams, and cleaner, confining the playful sloppiness of his old band, and his previous solo albums, into more clearly demarcated sloppy sections. It’s especially frustrating when there are still gratifying moments of clarity, like that opening line, that almost stand to make up for the “stoned digressions” that box them in. Here, the best one is ‘Gardenia,’ a perfect three-minute pop song that he never would have written for Pavement (though maybe for Belle & Sebastian). That it’s wedged between two six-and-a-half-minute guitar jams makes it that much more of a standout, but it sadly can’t redeem a mediocre record, not to mention a slowly diminishing career