Album Review by Adam Foster
Jesse Malin is confused. He looks like a refugee from art-punk – all John Cooper Clark hair and leather straps. And his album title sounds like sixth-form pre-ironic Goth. In fact, he is a straight-down-the-line, mid-tempo singer/songwriter from New York with a weakness for Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. He’d do a lot better to acknowledge it.
The problem is, with Ryan Adams producing and playing, and with tracks that sound like, say, ANGIE by the Stones (QUEEN OF THE UNDERWORLD) or Joe Jackson with a hint of WALK ON THE WILD SIDE bass (BROOKLYN), it is strange to hear him claim he’s “playing New Wave like the old days” (on the title track) or that “they call me punk rock, think they’re cute” (RIDING ON). Jesse may well once have been such – he is the former singer of D Generation, and counted the late Joey Ramone among his friends – but this is neither punk, nor new wave. It is AOR.
However, it is not a bad record. There is a genuine emotion in his voice, and a well-intentioned whole-heartedness to the arrangements – these are songs that give you heart. Lyrically, he is competent, with some insightful snapshots of life in New York. It is best, though, not to listen too closely to some stanzas, and the whole of the last listed track. X-Mas is a song about being left at Christmas, wherein he describes his former lover as “my reindeer that disappeared”. Fortunately, on my pressing, a second rendition of the rousing BROOKLYN has been mistakenly added to allow you to exit with some enjoyment.
Certainly, THE FINE ART OF SELF DESTRUCTION is derivative – but few debut albums are not. What it does well is to pick some of the best elements of its influences and meld them into a cohesive and broadly enjoyable whole. But it really would have benefited from a less portentous title: perhaps “BORN IN THE USA”?