For a guy who virtually grew up in a spotlight -- fronting hardcore punk band Heart Attack and glam punk sensations D Generation, and as a solo artist -- Jesse Malin is still out there trying to prove himself. With a new band and ten solid songs, Malin’s Love It to Life sounds world-weary and wise, but still crackling with New York’s rock & roll, live-wire energy. The band recorded with producer Ted Hutt and whoever happened to be hanging out around the Bowery: Ryan Adams is here, Brian Fallon, and former teen star Mandy Moore, among others. Musically, Malin is more literate, disciplined, and even tougher than on previous offerings; his lyrics are more poignant, leaner, and raw; his melodies have muscle and taut hooks. Stinging electric guitars usher in the opener, “Burning the Bowery.” Its near Celtic melody is tempered by layers of high-strung acoustics, a raggedy drum kit, and an in-the-red bassline. Malin lays out a tale of a kid growing up and burning through life at alarming speed; yet no matter how fast his protagonist moves, he always ends up in the same place. “All the Way from Moscow,” is faster, harder. Malin’s voice bursts with alley poetry. He’s close to the bone lyrically and melodically; his dynamic is pure street romance without delusion or false irony as guitars roil around him and drums thunder under his sung lines. “Low Life in a Highrise” is a slower, fingerpopping soul-ish tale of times gone by. The protagonist observes life passing him by and wonders how to find a place in the flow of what he observes. Another beautiful aspect of this record lies in the places Malin comes close to stumbling; he doesn’t try to mask it. (Check some of the lines and guitar parts in “Disco Ghetto.”) "Burn the Bridge” is a street rock anthem from a survivor of the life wars -- he knows that the losses, cuts, and bruises are always worth the gamble. “Black Boombox” is full of fire, romance, and swagger; Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, and Mitch Ryder could once write like this -- and perhaps wish they still could. The set ends with “Lonely at Heart,” which contains more bald-faced truth than Malin’s ever let himself reveal before; it's sad, powerful, naked. Love It to Life is Malin at his most vital, writing and singing the best material of his career thus far with a scarred heart and bloody but unbowed attitude and genuine laughter on full display. There isn’t anything left to prove: as a fine straight-up rock & roll poet and songwriter, he's as fine as they come; the only places to go now are wider and deeper.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek