Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Wig Out at Jagbags
Latest outing at its best when it sounds looser and funkier
With his nice haircut and clean clothes, Stephen Malkmus doesn’t immediately strike you as a rude boy of rock. Yet, there he was a couple of years back, appealing to fans for a word that could replace ‘blowjob’ in the Beck-produced single ‘Senator’ in order to make the song radio-friendly (‘corn-dog’ ended up being the victorious noun). And now, here he is, the ex-frontman of Pavement, leading his Jicks through a wigging out at some jagbags (be assured that this is not meant as a compliment).
Arguably far more objectionable is his claim in ‘Lariat’ that the 80s (musically) was ‘the best decade ever’. It certainly wasn’t the finest era in the career of Lou Reed (better than Iggy and Bowie, as Malkmus recently told The Observer), the man who was still alive when this record was made but who haunts many of its songs, from Malkmus’ occasionally bored-sounding vocal delivery to a more up-on-its-toes screw-you attitude that infiltrates tracks such as ‘Houston Hades’. There, he talks of towns that ‘look so impressive from a distance’ or in the brief ‘Rumble at the Rainbo’ when ‘this one’s for you granddad’ is bellowed as though The Young Ones’ Vyvyan Basterd had stormed the Jicks’ Ardennes studio in an adolescent punk fury. Perhaps the Zappa-like closer, ‘Surreal Teenagers’, is a generational counterbalance.
The best bits arrive, fittingly, when the band do get a chance to sound looser and funkier, particularly on ‘Chartjunk’ and ‘Independence Street’, or when Malkmus gets into a loungier frame of mind in ‘J Smoov’. Not quite sure what his frame of mind must have been to write a song entitled ‘Cinnamon & Lesbians’, but wilfully cheeky might cover it. And he’s in a defiantly playful mood on ‘Scattegories’, rhyming ‘Mott the Hoople’s’ with ‘got no scruples’ and banging on about ‘Condoleezza’s rice’. Ultimately, Malkmus doesn’t want to upset anyone: his aim is to jovially worm his way into your affections. A little sprinkling of true grit next time might do the trick.
Stephen Malkmus plays Òran Mór, Glasgow, Tue 14 Jan.