When a CV is stuffed with indie credentials asbright as Pavement and The Silver Jews,not to mention providing the voice of Bob Dylanfor Cate Blanchett in the movie I’m Not There,you have a right to expect something more from StephenMalkmus than an album sounding as if he’s overdosed onthe Led Zep comeback.
This is not to say that Real Emotional Trash isn’ta good record. It is, but it’s also overly riff heavyand just a bit stuck in the worst excesses of themid-1970s blues-folk-pop-prog nexus, the antithesis ofthe direction in which his former collaborator DavidBerman has moved. And this is a shame.
It’s been three years since his previous offering,2005’s Face The Truth. Take a trip back and you’llnote that reviews at the time were guarded – perhapsanticipating what was to come. Yet it was generallyconsidered that he was still moving forward, despitethe (justified) comparisons to Moby Grape.
The journey has continued, but en route he’s lostsomething of himself. Dragonfly Pie, with itsprogressive riffs, earnest vocals and dips intopoppier bridges is polished and accomplished in a waythat belongs on an album by Fairport Conventionor Fleetwood Mac. The nod to the avant gardewe’d expect from Malkmus is sadly missing.
Stretch reality a little and you could point toleftfield similarities with Flaming Lips if youdig hard, but he’s not pushing boundaries in the waythat bands such as, for example, The Mars Voltaor Wolfmother are if you have to go down thatroute at all. Guitar solos that go on too long and aretoo proud to be called axe raise their head far toooften throughout. It’s not a good thing that the titletrack is more than ten minutes long.
All of this means, of course, that hardcore Malkmusfans will probably love Real Emotional Trash. It’scertainly unlikely to upset anyone who’s enjoyed hiswork before. The lyrics are still a cut above theaverage, the addition of Janet Weiss, ex of SleaterKinney, on drums and backing vocals adds a nicenew dimension but there’s nothing here that shines inthe way you’d hope a man of Malkmus’s talents should.
Ironically, the best moments come when he stepsback from the prog godhead and strips things back tobasics – the pared back vocal section of HopscotchWillie, the dreaminess of Cold Son, the comedownparanoid of We Can’t Help You.
In the end, it’s an album too mired in the past.Progressive rock was, by definition, meant to pushboundaries and to move forward. You can’t do that byrecreating the past and so, ultimately, Real EmotionalTrash fails – beautifully and melodically, yes, but itfails nonetheless.