Stephen Malkmus / Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks

Pig Lib

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Stephen Malkmus wanted to bill his first solo album to the Jicks but was persuaded by Matador to release it under his name. As it turns out, the delay in billing was fortuitous, since Pig Lib, Malkmus' second solo effort and the first to share a co-billing with the Jicks, sounds much more like the work of a band than its predecessor. Which, to be honest, is a bit of a mixed blessing, since this record has all the attributes and trapping of a group who feel comfortable playing together. Unlike the ramshackle crew of Pavement, who never could walk a straight line, the Jicks easily follow his every whim, whether it's on winding guitar jams or breezy, mid-tempo numbers. This is likely what Malkmus was seeking in a band, since the essential tone, tenor, and aesthetic of his music hasn't changed since he disbanded Pavement. What has changed is the feel. No longer is it sprawling, messy, and unpredictable; it's relaxed, meandering, and comfortable. Strangely enough, the jokiness and irrepressibly giddy spirit of the debut have been subdued completely, replaced by a hazy seriousness spiked occasionally by Malkmus' notoriously wry wit, and even that has been tempered slightly, since the words and, to a lesser extent, the songcraft have taken a backseat to playing with the band. Now that he has a band he wants to play with, he jams, finally making the Groundhogs and Lobby Lloyd tribute he's been threatening for years. And it's not bad. But, apart from the wonderfully elastic, surprising "Us," it doesn't offer anything striking or resonant. True, it breathes more than either of the last two Pavement records, but only a handful of songs are of the standard of its predecessor: the light, lyrical "Vanessa From Queens," "Animal Midnight" with its brilliantly nonsensical coda, the succinct "Craw Song," and the epic jam "1% of One" (not as good as the versions played on the first Jicks tour, though; much like "The Hexx," it's been streamlined and isn't as nervy as it was live). Pig Lib is hurt by the odd combination of friendly interplay and a deliberate somberness that creates an album at once enjoyable but not particularly captivating. It surely creates the most consistent mood of any Malkmus album, but part of what made him so much fun was his rough edges, jokes, mistakes, thowaways, and indulgent whims, all of which are sadly missing here. [Actually, they've all been exiled to the five-track bonus EP included with the initial pressings of Pig Lib. A jumble of outtakes and live tracks, this is loose, funny, rocking, and poetic, everything that great Malkmus music is -- and it only hammers home what's wrong with the proper album.]

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