Popular thinking goes that Stephen Malkmus recorded his best work when he was fronting indie-rock heroes Pavement. But just listen to "The Hook," from Malkmus' 2001 self-titled solo debut, and you'll hear the deadpan singer's tour de force — a tuneful ditty about rowdy Turkish pirates who have little use for wooden legs or eye patches.
Malkmus is still capable of writing an occasional hook for his fourth album, Real Emotional Trash — check out "Gardenia." But more often than not, tunes get lost in the CD's noodling sprawl. It's telling that Malkmus' longtime backing band, the Jicks, gets co-billing here. Sleater-Kinney/Quasi vet Janet Weiss is now part of Malkmus' indie-Dead lineup. Too bad she couldn't convince him to mix things up a little more. At least 2005's Face the Truth made room for nine-minute epics and three-minute tchotchkes. Real Emotional Trash is all jam, all the time. Sure, the Jicks reach some blistering peaks in some of the songs. But mostly, Malkmus sounds like a Phish out of water.