Inane Thoughts: Diary Of A Frustrated Writer

Okay, so I’ve been lazy when it comes to writing my blog for the last few days. This is not because I ran out of ideas, honest. In fact I’ve been working on a running off/on/off theme for the coming months: re-evaluations of albums released in the 00s. I did think of re-evaluating one per week, coinciding exactly with the week in which it was released ten years ago. Then I looked at the album releases in January 2001. I don’t own, nor have I ever heard O-Town’s eponymous debut, Jennifer Lopez’s ‘J.Lo’, Daz Dillinger & J.T. The Bigga Figga’s ‘From Long Beach 2 Fillmoe’, or Black Label Society’s ‘Alcohol Fueled Brewtality’ (see what they did there? Yes, that’s right, the misspelt ‘fuelled’).

I’m certain that my record collection is much-the-poorer for these omissions, but having not evaluated them in the first place, I did feel that re-evaluating them might prove difficult. Obviously I was distraught. The track listing for O-Town’s album is particularly intriguing. They sound like the sort of songs that would appear on a collaboration between David Brent and Paul Danan. Songs off the album include: ‘Liquid Dreams’; ‘Every Six Seconds’; ‘Sexiest Woman Alive’; ‘Love Should Be A Crime’; ‘All Or Nothing’; ‘Sensitive’; ‘The Painter’. The first few songs are from the first half of the album, which I assume was the ‘sexy’ half. The second half, beginning with ‘Sensitive’ is, I assume, meant to show the boys in a more caring light, whereby they are ‘Sensitive’ and, like, paint stuff and, like, shit, yeah?

In the end, despite my intrigue at O-Town’s artistic output, my initial plan had to be abandoned. I then decided that I would stick close to the plan, but instead of picking an album from exactly ten years ago to the nearest week, I would just re-evaluate albums from across the year in 2001, picking them at random from my collection. Please feel free to make suggestions to me of albums that I should look back on. To start with I will begin with the first album that I actually own from the Wikipedia ‘2001 in music’ page:

Stephen Malkmus – Stephen Malkmus

First up, I have an admission to make: the only Pavement album that I bought at the time it came out was ‘Terror Twilight’. On top of this, I only bought the album because I was obsessed with Radiohead and I’d read in NME that Jonny Greenwood featured on two of the tracks. However, it only took one listen before I fell head-over-heels in love with Pavement – in particular Stephen Malkmus’ wordplay. I spent my entire next week’s wages on their entire back catalogue, giving myself a full day to listen to each album a few times through. I wanted to tell everyone I knew about them and sing their praises, but I only managed to persuade a couple of my friends of their greatness. This made me like them even more – as a 16 year old in Wokingham there were few people around that seemed to be on the same wavelength as me. Along with Pulp, Pavement made me realise that there might be a glorious inner sanctum for weirdo bookish music geeks like me. The lyrics to Box Elder absolutely blew me away and perfectly summed up what Pavement meant to me: “Was a distant voice/That made me make a choice/That I had to get the fuck out of this town.” It seemed like Stephen Malkmus was that distant voice.

I then went on to miss their last gig at Brixton Academy. I was furious with myself. When Stephen Malkmus’ first solo album came out I was pant-wettingly excited. By this point I’d acquainted myself with the history of Pavement; I knew every song and I knew that Malkmus considered Pavement to be like handcuffs he needed to escape from. For some reason I was hoping that this meant that his first album would be a return to the freewheelin’ melee of Wowee Zowee, with long, seemingly spontaneous guitar riffs. What I got was an album of incredibly structured songs. I remember being a little disappointed at the time, in particular thinking that although Pavement lyrics were ostensibly about nothing, there always made me feel something; the songs on ‘Stephen Malkmus’ seemed to simply be empty, that there was something missing. I also remember thinking that the album was great fun for a brief period of time, but it’s funny that the emptiness is the overriding feeling that lingers.

It’s strange listening to it again now. I’ve probably not listened to it since I started university, whereas Pavement albums are rarely off my stereo’s radar. I’m already reassessing my memories of this album. There are little details in the album that I must have missed or ignored the first time: the flute that insinuates itself into the rock dirge of ‘Black Book’; the knowing goofiness of the background sounds of ‘Phantasies’; the shattering-of-the-romanticism-about-pirates storyline of ‘The Hook’ (“We had no wooden legs/Or steel hooks/We had no black eye patches/Or a starving cook/We were just killers with the cold eyes of a sailor“). Then there’s the glorious shrug of a storyline in ‘Jenny & The Ess Dog’, where the relationship between a rich girl and her older boyfriend slowly breaks apart when she goes to college.

It never occurred to me until now that Malkmus had never really done ‘stories’ with Pavement. The details in this song are absolutely glorious: “Kiss when they listen/To ‘Brothers In Arms’/And if there’s something wrong with this/They don’t see the harm/In joining their forces and singing along“. There’s still a subtle misanthropy (of course there’s something wrong in listening to Brothers In Arms), but there’s also the sense that Malkmus understands the need in a relationship to build a world of your very own around you, no matter how ridiculous it seems to you when you look back on it.

There are also moments that remind me of why I was disappointed with the album: the MOR of ‘Discretion Grove’ and the emptiness of ‘Jo-Jo’s Jacket’ (a song about Yul Brenner seems like the sort of unfunny revivalism I’d expect from one of those pointless flashbacks in a Family Guy episode), but on the whole I think I’ve been harsh on this album. At the time I wanted another ‘Wowee Zowee’ or ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’, so that I wouldn’t feel that I’d missed out again. With this in mind, I was always going to be disappointed. It doesn’t do much new, but it’s a little gem of an album. I don’t think I’ll leave it another seven years before listening to it.

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One Response to “Inane Thoughts: Diary Of A Frustrated Writer”

  1. Sam Says:

    I’m in much the same boat as you regarding Pavement (albiet an album earlier) – I got their latest record because of a link with an already favourite band: in the first weeks of 1997, Graham Coxon insisted that the new Blur album was heavily influenced by Pavement, and then by some coincidence (or more probably a cunning plan) Brighten The Corners and Blur came out on the same day.

    Your love affair with them sounds familiar too – and I was equally rapt, equally defferent, and then equally disappointed by SM’s solo stuff: it felt lazy without the accompanying slacker cool, uninspired and a bit frantically empty – and I must confess it doesn’t do much for me now either.

    For me, it’s a bit like Jarvis’ solo stuff – although he was clearly the driving force behind his band, without them he’s a distinctly less appealing prospect.

    Anyway, enough of this – I’m very much looking forward to this series…

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