Jesse Malin had a shit year in 2018. His father, former guitarist, and producer all died. So his new album Sunset Kids, his first in four years, could have been a major bummer. Instead, it’s a celebration of survival that finds the New York City hardcore troubadour reflecting on life’s precious and fleeting moments.
“Shining Down” is inspired by Tom Petty’s final performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 2017, which Malin witnessed firsthand. “I act like nothing hurts/The bar becomes a church/A limousine or hearse and you don’t look back,” he sings over jangly Heartbreakers guitars and a euphoric chorus. In “Strangers and Thieves,” he teams up with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong to memorialize their punk glory days, delivering a blast of power pop that floats along on a curlicue guitar lick. And in “Shane,” Malin salutes the longevity of the hard-drinking Pogues singer Shane MacGowan, blending his nasally whine with that of Americana chanteuse Lucinda Williams.
It’s the presence of Williams, who co-produced the LP with her husband Tom Overby, that ties Sunset Kids together. A master lyricist, she helps Malin refine and focus his own words, especially on the introspective “Room 13” and on their duet “Dead On,” a slashing blues-rocker that evokes Williams’ own kiss-off “Changed the Locks.” The seemingly odd-couple pair — he’s from Queens, she was raised in Arkansas — slap their way through the verses. “You talk like an angel/You spit on the floor,” Williams growls, before Malin answers, “but you look just like the girl next door.”
There’s some repetition on the album, three of the 14 tracks, including “Revelations,” have appeared in various forms on past solo projects, but only fans who’ve followed Malin’s career closely will notice.
“Meet Me at the End of the World Again,” released as a one-off single in 2017, benefits from the redo. Elevated by Catherine Popper’s funky Lower East Side bass groove, it’s a soundtrack to the apocalypse, a command to reconnect before it’s too late, and makes you believe that the P.M.A. (positive mental attitude) that Malin has been preaching for decades just might be enough to save us.