I'm really unmoved by this Malkmus gear. And, that said, as celebrated rock-figure, Malkmus is plenty worthy of unsureness. Routinely put up for greatness, he's one of those figures who seem like they've never really done much to justify such charges. I mean, the chap's a wonderful type, for sure; he's funny and he knows his shit. He's due to play a bunch of dates in England where the supports, if I'm reading the listing properly, include Wizz Jones, Bert Jansch, and the totally incomparable Vashti Bunyan. So, Malkmus has definitely dug digging through obscure reaches of the English folk revival. So what? Unless you're Sonic Youth, you usually don't get extra points for your own records just because you know a lot about other people's. And, like, so, I'm thinking, Malkmus is great, but his records sure aren't. After all, his first post-Pavement outing (self-titled, and all) was a little on the, uh... how shall I put this... dull side. Indie-rock's iconic slacker showed that the new freedoms of being totally in charge didn't necessarily mean he'd be able to hit the ground running under his own name. As frontman for Pavement, Steve Malkmus had taken smart-ass lyrics, riffs ripped off of The Fall, and intra-band frictions just about as far as they could go. Minus such tensions, Malkmus relaxed, and the result sounded like yet another rock hero growing old and getting comfortable. Of course, tension, or tightness, was hardly what defined Pavement. They were a musical shaggy dog only intermittently great, occasionally falling into greatness, often falling on their swords. Their records, even in hindsight, committed to history, seem like they need both a wash and a shave.
Interestingly, though, here, now, with this second solo Malkmus disc, Pig Lib, SM is presiding over a tight-ish band for the first time ever. With The Jicks having had a couple years together, they're starting to sound like a genuine rock combo, who know each other and know their way around each other. Time together has stripped communication down to essentials; these newfound lean-and-mean ways help to tighten the tonal belt plenty.
But, here's the rub. Despite the fact that the band actually plays in a taut fashion, the disc is looser than a, uh, tasteless metaphor. From song to song things still stylistically stumble in ways that make things seem, invariably, kinda disjointed, or double-jointed, or something. Just like every other record Malkmus has been involved with, it doesn't feel like an album, doesn't feel like one whole work, doesn't feel focused, or of some specific intent. Pig Lib sounds rambling and goofy and slump-shouldered and half-assed and happened-upon and lazily comfortable with every step that it takes.
Which is fine, generally speaking. I dig that shit, too. But, in such, this disc sounds like every other pot-headed post-school jam-band that makes comic interpretations of their favorite styles. Albeit one with better taste. And, to create a great record from jams convening with that feeling is hard to do. Malkmus has come too far and spent too much money recording this to be able to turn that trick. I simply see Pig Lib for what it is: mediocre.