Highlights: The Janitor Revealed, Lariat, J Smoov, Chartjunk
If I were Stephen Malkmus, I would flat out hate my 90’s catalogue. All those Pavement albums everyone loves? The beautifully crafted songs of Terror Twilight? The melodic edginess of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain? The taste and consistency of Brighten The Corners? The exultant Fall-esque lushness of Slanted & Enchanted? The maddening, over-the-shop charm of Wowee Zowee? How exactly are you supposed to beat that? And who actually beats that?
You measure Malkmus against his Pavement years, you just do. Wig Out At Jagbags stands pretty well against other Jicks albums, no question about that. It’s when you drag things like “Shady Lane” into consideration that you realise only two or three songs here would have been okayed by a younger Stephen Malkmus.
Should we, though? Drag “Shady Lane” into consideration? I would say yes, because that’s how you assess this stuff and that’s how you know that “Lariat” and “Chartjunk” are so good. But it’s Malkmus all around, of course, spontaneous, whimsical, melodic, constantly spitting out vocal and instrumental hooks. Always ready to give an inspired guitar solo (the last minute of “Chartjunk”) and occasionally prone to giving one hell of an annoying tune (“Cinnamon and Lesbians”, which is either very good or very bad). The relative surprise comes by way of the jazzy and loungey “J Smoov” that sees Stephen’s voice do a rather sophisticated brand of falsetto.
Final words. Wig Out At Jagbags isn’t his strongest batch of songs by any means, but Stephen Malkmus’ songwriting remains one of the most intriguing and unique things around. And you just have to care for an edge in a world where every rock critic gets hots for a new Elbow album.