For the bulk of his post-Pavement career, Stephen Malkmus has embraced the lazy spaces laid out in extendo-rock jams, so much so that questions have arisen as to whether his words or the jams themselves are the real cause of his songs. That was never the case with Pavement, a band with limited musical chops and lots of literary cachet, but the question arises again as something of a plaything on Real Emotional Trash.
Sounding increasingly at ease with his own wonkiness, Malkmus slings solos and strings of words like a guy just thrilled to have some studio time and a chance to hang out with his friends. If that reads as faint praise, it's "just a symptom"—as the lyrics in "Gardenia" go—"of the blithe age we want to live in." For every such golden phrase evocative of an era that Malkmus helped articulate, there are digressive ones that grow richer the further they stray from meaning. (The absurdly specific chorus of the same song: "You are a gardenia pressed in the campaign journal in the rucksack of an Afrikaner candidate for mild reform.")
And then there's a guitar solo to wipe it all out. Real Emotional Trash features lots of long songs with prog parts ripe for '70s Camaro rides (see "Hopscotch Willie"), but Malkmus' apparent glee in playing them helps keep excess at bay. Or at least it suggests a guy who now has as much to say with his guitar as he does with his pen.