Bonding the pop smarts of his debut, 2003’s The Fine Art of Self-Destruction, with the occasional smart pop of its follow-up, 2004’s The Heat, Jesse Malin’s Glitter in the Gutter is an assured, gifted, and ridiculously catchy collection of pop storytelling. From the exuberant, anthemic opener “Don’t Let Them Get You Down (Beautiful Day!),” with its pretty, smoke-wisp harmonies that curlicue around Malin’s boisterous nasal delivery (think more Westerberg than Corgan); to his coulda-been-on-Side 3-of-The River slow-burn duet with Bruce Springsteen (“Broken Radio”); all the way to the lightly strummed, candlelit closer of “Aftermath,” it’s clear that Malin has finally become confident with the roots-pop songwriting abilities that comprised his glowing debut and that he seemed so hesitant to embrace on The Heat. (That album didn’t glow so much as it gave off a lunar reflection of its predecessor’s solar incandescence.)
Nowhere is this shift in confidence more evident than in the two cover songs that are sequenced back-to-back near the album’s end: “Bastards of Young” and “Happy Ever After (Since You’re in Love 2007).” The former was originally a jangly, almost rockabilly shout-along by the Replacements and shares its DNA with just about every up-tempo song Malin’s ever written. His version, though, risks breaking the classic anthem down into a heartfelt, piano-based whisper that speaks almost as loudly as the original’s shambolic roar. The latter is a cover of his own “Since You’re in Love” from The Heat. Where the original was a limp and colorless slice of acoustic mope-rock, the new version flowers into a layered, full-throated burst of power balladry (yeah, he sings those now, too).
I miss the country-rock sheen of the debut, and the slick pop production tends to blur the rockers into one massive, post-Tim Replacements roar, but Glitter is a guilt-free collection of mature rock/pop. Now that he’s no longer sweating the Artistic Integrity vs. Unabashed Pop Melodicism conundrum (there was a time when an artist could do both, believe it or not), Malin is once again producing music that makes the world that much more bearable.