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Stephen Malkmus | Stephen Malkmus (Domino)
When the erstwhile leader of one of your favourite American bands casually drops the name of your hometown, a British Midlands city, into a song you're entitled to be startled. When the lyricist is Stephen Malkmus and the place is Stoke-on-Trent it, well, makes a strange sort of sense. The inclusion of the Potteries in the track Pink India simply continues to mine the seam of Anglophile tendencies that ran through Pavement's work. Little more than a year after they imploded, Malkmus emerges with a first solo effort that both is and isn't a Pavement album. The guitars are lusher, arrangements more user-friendly, the urge to toss in an oddball chord change resisted, with moods drifting from playful (Phantasies) to gorgeous (Trojan Curfew). Perhaps the biggest departure is in what it isn't: his old bandmates would surely have stuck with the original title of Swedish Reggae. Musically, Television, Pere Ubu and The Fall are touchstones but it's the shadow of Lou Reed that looms largest over proceedings. Standout song The Hook could be Reed deadpanning through one of his tales of the Big Apple's underbelly, except Malkmus prefers pirates, 'just killers with the cold eyes of the sailor'. Elsewhere, the lyrical reference points in the singer/guitarist's route map flit from Greek gods to Westworld to Monte Negro to Coca Cola. He lets his secret slip in opener Black Box - 'permanently diversifie'* he vows. Long may he range so wide and free. As they'd tell him in Stoke: 'Yer o-rait, duck'.

Mark Walton
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001

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