Of all the characters in today’s musical landscape, Stephen Malkmus likely has the most reason to phone in an album at this point in his career. For starters, he has one leg over the midlife fence, and seeming domesticity in his foreseeable future with a newborn in tow. As the leader of Pavement, arguably one the most important bands to come out of the nineties, his place in the indie-rock pantheon is assured. He has the royalties from the reissues of Pavement’s classic albums to look forward to for years to come. In short, he has nothing left to prove and probably more than enough on his plate already. But despite everything being in place, he doesn’t serve up any mediocrity with Face the Truth, his third solo effort. Pulling out the underdog card for us one more time, this is the most consistent album of Malkmus’s post-Pavement career.
Stylistically, Face the Truth is all over the map. The album opens with “Pencil Rot,” a song awash with spooky synths and off-the-wall lyrics about Malkmus’s evil alter-ego Leather McWhip. This freak-fest is directly followed by “It Kills,” a light, breezy number with a bit of Southern twang. With “Freeze the Saints,” Malkmus makes a bid for our heartstrings, with a wispy ballad, armed with a beautiful piano hook. “Baby C’mon” is a sloppy rock anthem and is likely to take its place among the catchiest songs in his catalogue. Other noteworthy tracks are “Post-Paint Boy,” with its seeming swipes at hipster “it” bands, and the sprawling odyssey that is “No More Shoes.”
Like any Malkmus effort, Face the Truth is a mixed bag lyrically. Lines such as “You’re the maker of modern minor masterpieces for the untrained eye” in “Post-Paint Boy” perfectly display Malkmus’s cutting wit. “Mama” contains perhaps the most clear and direct lyrics that Malkmus has recorded to date, including this gem: “No we didn’t have too much money/ Just enough to make the dead ends meet.” But anyone claiming they can squeeze a drop of meaning out of “Came from the top of the deck/ Warm and direct/ No more shoes/ No more news/ No more blues” off “No More Shoes” is lying to you.
Clocking in at just more than forty minutes, Face the Truth is a tight, well-paced album. Six years into his solo career, it seems that Stephen Malkmus is hitting his stride. Gone are the spotty moments that marred his previous solo work. Most important, Malkmus seems to be having fun again. It’s not the youthful exuberance of his Pavement days, but instead the kind of high spirits found in a person who is content.