The Fine Art Of Self-Destruction
To garner any credibility as a singer-songwriter in this age of carefully groomed garage rockers and feisty Russian lesbians, you need some sort of intriguing background. To simply pick up an acoustic guitar, plant oneself on a stool and extol the virtues of, say, the elements, is next to unheard of these days--folk rock is becoming more and more the domain of reformed-punk rockers.
Ex D-Generation frontman Jesse Malin--who's decidedly more Paul Westerberg than James Taylor--may or may not turn out to be the next big thing, but, based on the strength of his solo debut, The Fine Art of Self-Destruction, he's got a more than fair shot at this tarnished brass ring. Produced by famed drinking-buddy-to-the-stars Ryan Adams, The Fine Art is an occasionally brilliant exercise in lo-fi confessional rock. The result sounds, unsurprisingly, quite a bit like Adams' Stones-flavored output. This was achieved, according to Malin, simply by toning down the screaming guitars and refraining from hitting himself in the head with a microphone.
\Y'know, I've been in a lot of bands, and bands break up, but I guess I can't break up with myself,"" Malin quipped in a telephone interview with Cardinal Arts.
In The Fine Art's 13 songs, Malin examines the full gamut of love, reminisces of lost childhood, bitchy exes and New York's boroughs. Unlike Adams, who has quite apparently run out of subject material and has thusly resorted to repeating himself, Malin seems to be working from quite a rich back catalogue of material. ""Brooklyn"" gracefully captures the awkwardness of urban loneliness, pining even while ""hitting the Pathmark after work."" ""Almost Grown,"" which features Pixies-ish guitar work from Adams, is a clever family portrait including the requisite sister with a thing for John Travolta and a mother whose eulogy consists of recalling her fondness for Frank Sinatra, cigarettes and Jack Kennedy.
If the arrangements seem more than a little derivative and the lyrics occasionally self-serving, it's Malin's severe and affecting delivery--a mix somewhere between Neil Young, Nick Cave and Tom Waits--that drives it down your throat. The Fine Art's standout track, ""Solitaire,"" turns the words ""I don't need anyone"" into a visceral, heart-wrenching caterwaul, simultaneously straddling the line between rage and complete emotional failure.
Reluctant to leave his roots completely behind him, Malin recorded a one-off, vinyl-only hardcore album with Adams under the nom-de-rock The Finger, but Malin refused to answer any questions about the project directly: ""I heard that someone who looks like me went in [the studio], got drunk, and played the bass."" When asked for an opinion on the imposters' work, Malin offered that he and Adams ""heard the stuff, and we were pretty happy. If people wanna look like us and imitate us and use our likenesses and change names and put on costumes, we'll support it.""
No plans for a Madison-area show are currently in place (an event that would involve high-powered water guns, rabbit suits, balloons and Abe Vigoda), but after correctly identifying the setting of Happy Days as Kenosha, Malin left no doubt about his intentions on heading to the heartland. ""I like Weezer, and I like Happy Days, so I want to come to Wisconsin. You've got good beer there."" At least we did, before Malin started getting us all weeping into our pints of New Glarus with a classic rock effort.