Two Aging 1990s Pavement Fans Discuss Stephen Malkmus’ Solo Work

The first review I ever had posted online was a recap of Pavement’s 1997 appearance at Trees on their Brighten The Corners tour. I was seventeen years old, and quite proud of this achievement. To people of a certain age and lifestyle, the band was an almost unavoidable fact of life during that time. So, of course, when a singer of an iconic band releases enough records that he or she threatens to equal, better, or do worse by the work with which a name was made, it can be cause for some reflection.

That’s a bit lofty. This is basically two jerks discussing Stephen Malkmus, who played last night at the Granada Theater, and the fact that Beck produced his newest record. Featuring myself and my ex-editor Colin Cameron (formerly of We Shot JR) on Google Chat, the former outspoken Dallas music blogger was also an attorney while he covered music, infamously, “in his spare time.” These days he is just an attorney, but still a great music talk sparring partner.

Christopher Mosely: I can not bring myself to write about Stephen Malkmus. I can’t do it.

Colin Cameron: God, I don’t envy you on that one.

CM: Have you heard the newest record? Here’s a snippet of the Spin Review:

“Mirror Traffic” has received generally positive reviews. Spin gave the album a score of 8/10, calling it, “a patient, inviting album that feels like a fresh start from a guy whose recording career spans multiple boom-and-bust cycles, both for indie rock and the economy.

CC: It’s like “I love Pavement, Stephen Malkmus solo is really boring, I always wished Pavement would do a reunion tour, I saw them twice in Chicago a couple years ago, and that’s about the end of that. kthnxbye”

Isn’t the old drummer of The Jicks, Janet Weiss, the chick in Portlandia?

CM: No, but they’re in a band. Wild Flag. You’re thinking of Carrie Brownstein.

CC:  Anyway, that new album sounds awful.

CM: You’ve heard the newest record? It’s called Mirror Traffic.

CC: “Produced by Beck?” GTFO. No, I haven’t heard it, but I’ll give you my review right now.

Listening now.

First song is ok…. kinda like if “Father to a Sister of a Thought” were on that dumb last Pavement album no one likes.

CM: Ha.

CC: Hey, ever wonder what it would sound like if the Shins tried to cover an early Fall song? Check out the second song! His lyrics really just annoy the f*** out of me. It’s always these dumb little stories. This song is 4 minutes long and three minutes too long. Still probably the best Malkmus solo album I’ve heard actually.

CM: This is?

CC: Yep, probably. Maybe not better than the first one, but close.

CM: He had a couple moments on that first record. “Jenny and the ess dog” is an excellent single.

CC: Can he just stop f*****g around all the time? Stop changing tempos and making his voice crack and s***? It’s all way too jokey.

CM: I think he wasted time trying to be a midlevel star like Beck. He actually just sang, “Sit-ups are so bourgeoisie.”

CC: Beck is the f*****g worst, man. Why couldn’t Pavement just make another album? What the f*** else do those guys have going on?

CM: Agreed. Beck is the worst. I was so upset when he collaborated with Charlotte Gainsbourg.

CC: Ugh, and all his dumb s*** like, “check out how weird and crazy it is for a white guy to do funk songs mah main man!”

“You guys I’m EDUCATED! And WHITE! This is IRONIC funk!” And then the very next album is like “Ever thought about feelings before, my brah?” He’s also a f*****g Scientologist, so there’s that.

CM: Yes, I agree with all of that. I don’t think I’ve ever liked a single song.

CC: There are a couple early songs that I think are good. The K Records era has some okay songs.

CM: That one song on DGC Rarities is fine, because it’s with all of this other superior work, so it makes him look better.

CC: “MTV makes me want to smoke crack.” Is that the one?

CM: Ha, I can’t remember individual lyrics, but that sounds about right. But back to Malkmus.

CC: I quit listening. It was really getting on my f*****g nerves. Oh, this (“Rowboat”) is the song Johnny Cash covered. Easily the best Beck song obviously. Listen to it.

CM: Remember when Malkmus came out with that first solo record, and the promotional photo had him on a beach wearing an Underdog t-shirt?

CC:  Yes, I remember the picture.

I mean the fact that Johnny Cash did a straight cover of that song is pretty f******g incredible. The 90s were weird. Johnny Cash was covering Beck, and the Meat Puppets were getting six-figure advances.

CM: Yeah, they certainly figured that mess out. Now nobody gets paid and everyone works overtime.

CC: Thank God its more efficient now!

CM:  You’re evil.

CC: Haha. If it makes you feel any better, everyone else in America is getting f****d harder now too.

CM: This Malkmus talk got really heavy.

CC: Even the Jicks aren’t immune to economic downturn!

CM: That’s what the Spin review said.

CC: Haha. Oops.

CM: See, you’re in the wrong business. You could have been a rock record reviewer instead of a corporate attorney.

CC: Nah, man. Too burnt out.

CM: Me too. Okay, I’m posting this on FrontRow instead of writing about Malkmus. Is that cool with you? Great chatting with you. I was totally playing you for answers.

CC: Don’t you think I knew that?!

CM: Damn it.


  • Wes C

    Honestly, I thought Mirror Traffic was great. I’m not ashamed of this.

  • jacob

    I disagree with all of this. Pavement was Malkmus in his late teens and twenties. The Jicks records are Malkmus in his 30’s and early 40’s. Different sauce yes, but “boring”…. not a chance. Also, nowhere in this write-up do they mention that they even attended the very excellent show last night at the Granada. This article is classic aging hipster “the early stuff is better” nonsense.

  • justin

    isn’t that the self proclaimed point, jacob? any joke would offend someone or else it wouldn’t be funny to anyone… shame you let this one offend you.

  • Christopher Mosley

    The above piece was written before the show. I attended the show and I disagree with you that it was “excellent.” Had I attended the show before writing the piece, it would have been harsher. I’ve seen Malkmus perform solo (with the Jicks) twice now, and I desperately want to appreciate his performances and records. But he is far more interested in solos, as opposed to being the champion melody writer that he once was, even when he was doing it as veiled as possible. When he makes a smirking musical reference to an obscure classic rock record now days, the joke has lost its charm. He’s content to keep running up and down the fretboard long after the punch line. But he’s doing exactly what he wants, and I suppose that’s respectable.

    And what was with that sarcastic cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit?” Such a bratty move, but one we should expect at this point. At Pavement’s last Dallas show, he remarked that there were always a lot of “little Kurt Cobains in a Dallas audience” or something like that. Don’t get me wrong, I find this all very entertaining and hilarious. But it seems like he would be above this sort of thing by now.

    Finally, do you know why people say that “their earlier records were better?” Because most of the time, the earlier records were better. If you think that the same career could have been made on mild, mid-tempo indie jams, then we just have a slightly different view of the way underground music worked twenty-one years ago.

  • Jackpot

    I think this piece really misses the mark. Sure, Pavement’s first three records ae untouchable. But “Real Emotional Trash” and “Mirror Traffic” are as least as good as “Brighten the Corners” and “Terror Twilight,” if not better. And if you think that Pavement was a great live band, you must have caught them on better nights than I did. I saw them several times during their prime, and they were uneven at best. Finally, how do you call yourselves “aging Pavement fans”? By my math, one of you was still in elementary school when Pavement released “Slanted & Enchanted.”

  • Natasha Hamlet

    Pavement was, in my opinion, the best thing to come out of the 90’s as far as music goes. But I guess all good things must come to an end. I fear the future of all music these days. As if it could get any worse… Good post. A little harsh, but good nonetheless. Just glad to see some people still care about Malkmus, even if it is just to say that his newer stuff is terrible 😉 Oh yeah and Beck is embarrassing. I don’t know what went wrong with him but WOW. I realize this post is from 2012 but it is still pretty accurate!