Reviewed by AJ Miranda.
If an album’s rating were based solely on its opening track, Jesse Malin’s Love It to Life would be a perfect 10. The song in question, “Burning the Bowery,” is a quintessential spring-time indie rock anthem. It has everything you’d want from the genre in 2010: pounding, propulsive percussion in the intro, abrasive angular guitar riffs that are familiar but not boring, and easy-to-remember shout-along choruses. It’s the obvious first single off Malin’s SideOneDummy Records debut and has the potential to be a hit.
Unfortunately, nine filler tracks follow the earnest and uplifting “Burning the Bowery” in what degenerates quickly from an album with potential to an album that feels like homework. And I’m not a lazy reviewer; I’ve listened to Love It to Life about a dozen times in the last two weeks and it still hasn’t grown on me.
“All the Way from Moscow” is a fun, poppy song with its woo-ooohs and kinda sounds like a heavier Pavement. It’s a solid summertime, driving-with-the-windows-down tune. But it’s nowhere near “Bowery” in terms of memorability and repeatability. And “The Archer,” with its acoustic guitar and tambourine, is good for slowing things down and getting a little more sentimental. But after these first three tracks, Malin has rigorously powered his way through every indie-rock cliché of the last 20 years, like some college radio version of that mega-viral Evolution of Dance video on YouTube. The album never quite rebounds or regains its footing for tracks 4-10.
The positive thing I will say about the album as a whole is that Malin has a knack for crafting a rich story through his lyrics. You can tell he lives and breathes New York City and that he doesn’t lack for interesting life experiences. It makes me wish Malin would swap songwriting for literary writing and publish memoir/fiction hybrids à la Augusten Burroughs.
Dude’s been making music for two decades, from punk to glam to folk-rock; they can’t all be winners. That said, “Burning the Bowery” will be the opening track on my “Springtime in Austin” mix CD. And you better believe I’ll replay the hell out of it.
Red River rating: 6 out of 10