In this day and age, the idea of the rock star is dead and gone, having been replaced by the less self-destructive, more approachable, eternally hip indie-rock icon. Stephen Malkmus—whether he likes it or not—is exactly that. And that’s not because of what he’s done in the past. At 47, he’s still living it, only wiser and perhaps a little grayer.
As his former band Pavement grows more distant in the rearview mirror (though still in sight after 2011’s reunion tour), Malkmus and his band the Jicks have just released their sixth LP, Wig Out At Jagbags, an album that continues the concise nicety of 2011’s Beck-produced Mirror Traffic. It’s Malkmus doing what he does well rather than trying to reinvent himself or keep up with the young’ns.
The fact is no one sounds like Stephen Malkmus, no matter how hard some have tried. Interviewing him a few years ago, I noticed that even when he talks he’s got his own neo-boho vocabulary. Wig Out at Jagbags is loaded with Malkmisms (from the song titles right down to the album name itself). There’s also a sense of reflection, especially on songs like “Rumble At the Rainbo” and first single “Lariat,” which contains the line “We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever / Talkin’ ‘bout the ADDs.” There are plenty more wry lines throughout, but they come off less like jabs and more like they should be accompanied by a wink.
Wordplay aside, the music is simpler—no extended guitar jams—but Malkmus is still a damn fine axeman. He rocks out on “Scattegories” (with the line “Mott the Hoople’s got no scruples”) and closer “Surreal Teenagers.” And he’s dorkily playful on “J Smoov,” which builds an easy-going AM-radio strummer to a bubbling horn crescendo, and “Rumble At the Rainbo,” which includes a goddamn skank breakdown.
Like most of Malkmus’ releases, Wig Out At Jagbags won’t likely endear him to many newer listeners. But for those who are of the same disposition, this ain’t a bad place to be.