Home Read Albums Of The Week: Jesse Malin | Sad & Beautiful World

Albums Of The Week: Jesse Malin | Sad & Beautiful World

The tough ’n’ tender N.Y.C. indie-rocker shows off both sides of his personality.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: Sad and Beautiful World is for the survivors, the dreamers, the leavers and the believers,” said Jesse Malin. “My music has always been about rebirth and redemption. This record is for those who pick up the pieces and find beauty in the madness.”

The first double album of Malin’s career hits like a collection of heartfelt and eloquent short stories that never lose their dirt and swagger. The phoenix could be the spiritual mascot of Sad and Beautiful World. Forged in the wild flames of the lost pandemic year, the album follows Sunset Kids (2019), Malin’s acclaimed album produced by Lucinda Williams and Tom Overby. Followers have always appreciated the many sides of Malin, from his pioneer days in the hardcore band Heart Attack to D Generation and his solo career. Sad and Beautiful World, which takes its title from a line of dialogue in Jim Jarmusch’s 1986 cult-classic film Down By Law, divides itself down the middle.

A lyric in the song Almost Criminal gives the split record its theme: Roots Rock Radicals, Malin’s take on a phrase from the intersection of punk and reggae back in the day. The “Roots Rock” side leans to the sad-eyed ballads, while its companion, the “Radicals” side, roughs things up a bit. But not everything is as black and white as the movies. All of Sad and Beautiful World is both tough and tender, laced through with vividly drawn characters striving against circumstance and a raw emotional tenor. The 17 songs served up here will break your heart, move your hips, and keep the lights shining.

Right before lockdown, Malin was moving fast on the heels of 2019’s Sunset Kids with sold-out dates in the U.S. and U.K. “I took all my anxiety, fear and loneliness and began writing,” described Malin, who made the record in the fall of 2020 at Flux Studios in New York. “The sirens, the protests, riots and the darkness outside my doorstep definitely made its way in these songs. Everything rose to a boiling point, and we found a way to get through it.”

At the heart of Sad and Beautiful World lies empathetic character sketches like Todd Youth, which features Bad Brains’ frontman H.R., who is a lifelong mentor to Jesse with his message of PMA (positive mental attitude), and brings a wistful voice from beyond the grave speaking to loved ones that remain. A Little Death, meanwhile, is a scathing but ultimately compassionate read on a millennial brat. Hearts are broken and hearts are full — sometimes both at once — as on the stark opener Greener Pastures or the rebel soul of Dance With The System, as cool and slick as a black leather jacket.

Billie Joe Armstrong once said “New York City is the center of the universe, and there is no New York City without Jesse Malin.” Malin masterfully sets the scene of his beloved hometown with the autobiographical Backstabbers, a coming-of-age tune about navigating through the city lights, blood suckers and the arcade-prowling chicken hawks. Written in 2019, the slinky strut of The Way We Used To Roll now has an extra layer of meaning. Both songs were produced by fellow roots-rock-radical Lucinda Williams, who also sings backup on Backstabbers, and her partner, Tom Overby. The majority of Sad and Beautiful World was produced by Malin’s longtime guitarist Derek Cruz and Geoff Sanoff.

“When I was kid in Queens, my mother had a sign over the kitchen sink with a flower or something, that said ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.’ I still feel that way. Growing up here, you find a way to carry your dreams up from the street and out to the stars. I try hard to keep my sense of humor, community and always find a way to dance through the flames.”