Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard
Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus returns with an album overflowing with hooks, and a hint of grace and gravitas
Stephen Malkmus is an elder statesman of rock. With Pavement, he created at least two perfect seminal albums and inspired a thousand fantastic indie rock bands (as well as a thousand terrible ones, probably). Unlike other high profile guitar wielders – let’s say, Jack White – Malkmus hasn’t grown older by experimenting bafflingly, and sometimes laughably, but by sticking to what he knows best.
It helps that Malkmus has hooks and riffs spilling out of every pore, the pretenders tripping over them as they stumble to keep up, and on Sparkle Hard he uses them to full effect. Lead single Middle America has several, and is so warm and familiar that if you close your eyes you’re transported back to his early 90s heyday.
But perhaps most pleasing about a new set of tunes from the Jicks is that Malkmus does in fact show his age, in the best possible way. The now-51-year-old is still adept at a wry turn of phrase, but this time his petulance is replaced with wisdom and gravitas, and his focus has turned to something more socially conscious. Bike Lane is the most exciting song written about the difference in political priorities between social classes this year, and the aforementioned Middle America shows what happens when a seemingly youthful legend faces mortality and sees the world is changing around him: 'I will not be one of the watchers / I will not disappear.'
There are welcome electronic flourishes, a brief but successful flirtation with auto-tune and a lovely duet with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon on Refute. But what sparkles most about this new album is the comfort you feel when Malkmus and his band do exactly what you expect.
Listen to: Bike Lane, Middle America, Difficulties / Let Them Eat Vowels