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Pounding the pavement

For all the unit shifting accomplished by Nirvana and Green Day, no band defined the sensibility of '90s alt-rock more forcefully than Pavement. Smart, sarcastic, and filled with withering disdain for any hint of self-serious, rock-star careerism (Stone Temple Pilots and Smashing Pumpkins infamously took it on the chin in "Range Life"), they implicity conveyed to their generation the same message that Bob Dylan did for his crowd in the mid-'60s and the Sex Pistols did more than a decade later: It's all a big cosmic joke and you're a fool to take anything seriously.

By the time Pavement called it quits in 1999, frontman Stephen Malkmus had allowed some empathy to sneak into the picture, and his subsequent solo albums have been untidy mixes of tentative emotion and smug brainiac surrealism. Face The Truth, Malkmus' third solo album, finds him in gratifyingly loose-limbed form, but the downside of that looseness is an excess of off-the-cuff silliness that would make more sense in a deluxe-edition reissue a decade down the line.

Face the truth
Stephen Malkmus
(Matador Records)
His weakness for electro-funk results in the pointlessly lame "Kindling For The Master," while the ersatz flamenco of "I've Hardly Been" never coalesces. In the category of squandered potential, "No More Shoes" runs a pretty guitar figure into the ground with endless solo wankery. On the other hand, Malkmus' goofiness also results in some of the album's best moments, such as the disarming "shrimp eye view" of "Mama": "Upstairs mama's making some crepes yeah/from a fancy recipe book/to me they look just like tortillas/boy that mama can cook." And both the synth-squealing opener "Pencil Rot" and the giddy single "Baby C'mon" easily triumph over their meaninglessness. Best of all, "Loud Cloud Crowd" and "Post-Paint Boy" find Malkmus reaching for poetic heights without feeling the need to undercut his own sincerity. At moments like this, Malkmus continues to do oblique opacity better than all the pretenders he inspired.

Gilbert Garcia

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