Once on a tour supporting Ryan Adams in 2002, Jesse Malin told a story between songs about his sexual curiosity as an 11-year-old. Apparently, he was so entranced by the physical act of love, that one day he left his home in Queens, and on foot made his way to the seediest, strangest corners of New York City. Equipped with money, he wished to score a prostitute.
He found a pimp who told him to wait in the landing of a run-down tenement. Scared shitless, he ran away. “Can you imagine if I’d fucked someone when I was 11?” Jesse said from the stage, “I’d be even more fucked up sexually than I already am!”
Recounting this bizarre and quite brilliantly told story is meant to show that Jesse Malin in 2002 was fresh and interesting. Full of ideas, melodies and heart, The Fine Art Of Self Destruction was an album of pained ballads and urban sadnesses. 2004’s The Heat was even better, bringing his innate punkitude, from his time in D-Generation, to sit alongside the album’s acoustic foundations.
However, Glitter In The Gutter is not the step forward we all hoped it might be. Too much deadwood, this is the sound of someone more absorbed with self-mythologising than putting together an album he really means. Jesse is more preoccupied with his attitude than songwriting at times. His pal Adams – who along with Jakob Dylan, Josh Homme and Bruce Springsteen make fairly bland contributions to this album – went through a similar stage when he released Rock ‘N Roll in 2003. Adams emerged from it to create some of the most wonderful music of his career, and one hopes Malin can do the same.
Don’t Let Them Take You Down (It’s A Beautiful Day) lulls the listener into the false impression that the ecstasy and anger of The Heat is being perpetuated, but then In The Modern World is a simply dreadful imitation of The Libertines‘ Can’t Stand Me Now – complete with Malin spluttering through the lines “Come on and fuck forever”. The 11-year-old Malin clearly lurks in him still.
Broken Radio, a duet with Springsteen, doesn’t hits the emotional, heartbreaking heights of epicness it sets itself. The rest of Glitter in the Gutter is nondescript and remote.
That said, New York Nights proves the fire in Jesse Malin’s belly still burns. A song about an evidently very special New York girl, it is on this territory – romance in the grotty streets with collar upturned against the wind Dylan stylee – that he finds his real voice. It’s a pretty tune too, but does contain the line: “On my TV they’re still playing God/I’m sick of politricks”. The sentiments are right on and probably universally felt among Malin’s young and trendy fans, but there are just more original and articulate ways of railing against the man, and they continually elude him. Aftermath sees him turn his attention to the personal even more, and is the one track on Glitter In The Gutter that stands up to his previous two albums.
A blip, but one he easily can recover from. He has to tell us more about his strange childhood and his slightly shambolic but always romantic personal life. It’s more interesting than bashing George W Bush.