And so we finally get to hear the album that Matador didn’t want you to hear! Sparkle Hard, Malkmus’ last album – yes! Matador were all over that! But Groove Denied, Malkmus’ electronic record – not so much!
Except, you know, that isn’t the story.
Basically, Malkmus delivered two records at once after kicking back his heels in Berlin with his wife and kids for a few years and they just wanted to put out Sparkle Hard first. Ah but that’s not anywhere near as exciting a story.
We want to know that Malkmus recorded an album of – shall we say ‘more typical’ Malkmus songs with Sparkle Hard and then LOST HIS FUCKING MIND and recorded 10 electronic freak outs.
We want music so fucking out there that Holger Czukay says, ‘Jesus Malkmus! What were you thinking?! This is UNLISTENABLE! WE LOVE IT!’
We want Pierre Schaeffer and Yoko Ono and Karlheinz Stockhausen and Glenn Branca and Bill Laswell and Riyuichi Sakamoto and Keiji Haino and EVERY MASSIVELY EXPERIMENTAL MUSICIAN WHO EVER LIVED TO JUST EXPLODE WITH ENVY AT THE BALLS-OUT CRAZINESS OF WHAT IS ON OFFER HERE.
And then you listen to Groove Denied (which is a great title for an album in a Wayne’s World sort of way) and – it isn’t like that at all.
It starts well enough. ‘Belziger Faceplant’ could well be the soundtrack to a coachtrip to the outer edges of crazy town. “I love what you are to me,” Malkmus sings with his voice fed through a deranged hoover. Schaeffer, Ono, Stockhausen et al peer over the fence to see what is going on. Then we get ‘A Bit Wilder’ – yes we think! Here we go! Only for a song that could have been a Movement-period New Order b-side. Malkmus is muted. It’s. Not. Without. Interest. Malkmus is trying something different. Kudos. Okay.
Next up: ‘Viktor Borgia’ begins with a chirpy keyboard that is within shouting distance of Kraftwerk but becomes a solid Human League chugger. It’s actually better than that sounds (but not much). ‘Come Get Me’ follows. It has guitars on it! What a jip. This is supposed to be an electronic album. That’s what we was told. ‘Come Get Me’ sounds like The Sonics. It’s actually quite cool, alright. Which plays merry havoc with my desire to come across like a petulant teenager.
‘Forget Your Place’ is a strong reset, though. If you’re a fan of Scott Walker’s Tilt (which was described as “an anti-matter collision of rock and modern classical music” back in 1995) you’ll fucking love ‘Forget Your Place’. ‘Rushing the Acid Frat’ is guitarry again (we cross our arms, pout, stick our bottom lip out and say, ‘Malk-mus’ like a Victorian teacher) but it’s lovely and we like it and it reminds us of every time we played a Pavement song and became ridiculously happy when we were young and stupid and in love with the world and everything it had to show us.
‘Love the Door’ sounds like The Turtles. ‘Bossviscerate’ sounds like mellow, sun-drenched, dream-pop (that wouldn’t be massively out of place on Sparkle Hard). ‘Ocean of Revenge’ could be a refugee from Box Elder.
Why, we think to ourselves, Sparkle Hard and Groove Denied might as well be just two albums by a competent and interesting musician!
We bought the bullshit and came expecting craziness but actually what we got was a pretty standard Stephen Malkmus album. If truth be told, the lack of craziness is a little disappointing. We wanted wig outs, 17 minute songs (and seven second songs). We wanted Can and we wanted Napalm Death and all points between. Instead we got somewhat laid back mid career indie experimentation unlikely to upset anyone.
What happened to you Stephen Malkmus?! You used to annoy our parents?! Harrumph.
Words by Pete Wild