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Malin’s album takes him from ‘Gutter’ to ‘Glitter’

James Costa | Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Even after the demise of famed New York City rock club CBGB last October, the spirit of that independent New York sound that emanated from the Village and beyond in the heady days of the late 80s and early 90s lives on in the music of seminal singer-songwriter Jesse Malin. Malin, who recently released “Glitter in the Gutter” on Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong’s Adeline Records, has constructed an album that has garnered significant notice for its roll call of big name appearances, as well as its strong and refreshingly new rock and roll sound.

Malin, closing in on 40, still manages to capture the irreverency of his insouciant youth in Queens, where his childhood was not unlike the characters in Dito Mortiel’s recent film “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.” The album picks up momentum right from the first moment with the song “Don’t Let Them Take You Down.” A chugging track, it speaks to the near-middle aged hipsters of Malin’s rock circle and the creation of a new lost generation of musicians converging in lower Manhattan to find some inspiration and direction as their lives and music change with the times.

One of the most surprising appearances on the record is Bruce Springsteen on the ballad “Broken Radio.” A touching tribute to Malin’s mother, the song breaks away from most of the record’s hard rocking tracks and delivers a soft piano remembrance of a world now gone though still alive in Malin’s memories. Providing perfect balance to Malin’s youthful voice, Springsteen supplies a gorgeously rugged and aged perspective to the song.

Malin brings Ryan Adams, his close friend and often collaborator, to provide guitars and backing vocals on four tracks. The two famously – in the underground New York scene – formed and produced two punk EPs under the name The Finger and released a CD compilation titled “We Are F**K You.” This collaboration is evident in “Glitter” in the Gutter on such tracks as “Little Star.”

Embodying the main theme of the album, Malin and Adams paint a world of misunderstood ideals and hopes for deliverance and happiness in the years to come. While lyrics such as “Misunderstood / like Robin Hood / and Peter Pan / redemption” can be trite, it is undeniable that Malin and Adams share a common vision. Especially since music fans are so used to hearing Adams in his own prolific releases, it is refreshing to hear him provide often brilliant moments in a backup role to Malin. The two hit their best with the track “Aftermath,” a tune that Malin wrote after seeing Yoko Ono on a street in New York City. Malin and Adams sing of a changing world, “And the radio went silent / And all our heroes had died / Now you can buy revolution / In any color or size.”

With the additions of Adams and Springsteen, as well as Jakob Dylan, it would be easy for Malin to lose sight of his own vision for the record. However, he maintains a firm control over the direction of the disc. The influences of his earlier bands and projects such as D Generation are obvious. Malin assaults the listener with a dazzling attack of serrated guitars mixed with massive choruses reminiscent of classic acts like New Jersey band Bon Jovi.

While some songs are weaker than others, his brilliantly crafted adrenaline shots, such as “Prisoners of Paradise,” offer the listener plenty to think about. It is a solid rock and roll album in a time when those are increasingly hard to come by, and certainly worth a listen.