I'll begin by saying that, personally, I'm just very happy Jesse Malin came out with a new album at all.
From what I've read, after 2007's Glitter in the Gutter came out, he wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life anymore, and a retirement from performing after 25+ years in the biz (fronting such acts as hardcore punk band Heart Attack in the '80s and glam punks D Generation in the '90s) seemed like a very real possibility. It seems that he was then asked to write some songs for an as-yet-unreleased film on the life of author J.D. Salinger, and that's when he got his mojo workin' back again. Shortly after, he was back in the studio recording this, his first album for SideOneDummy.
If you've never heard Jesse Malin before, one thing to say about him is that he would fall under the hardcore New York punk/romantic, if there was such a category. His songs are usually quite cinematic and he knows every detail of New York City--put the two together and yes, it may sound like I am describing a Woody Allen solo album, but I promise you, it's actually a very unique sound.
With this album--his fourth solo album overall, named Love It to Life (the title based on a line that Joe Strummer used to say to him)--he recruited a new band, which he named the St. Marks Social. I've got to say that the band makes a huge difference in the sound we've heard from him before. Compared to his first solo record, The Fine Art of Self Destruction, which was produced by Ryan Adams and had a heavier accent on the singer-songwriter style, this is definitely a more rockin' effort--and at the same time, more raw and organic-sounding than Glitter in the Gutter (his third album), which was a bit too polished at times.
From the anthems ("Burning the Bowery," "Burn the Bridge") to the softer songs ("The Archer," "Lonely at Heart"), to just plainly well-written up-tempo songs ("St. Mark's Sunset," "Disco Ghetto"), all the songs have their own personality and the album never gets dull--though, admittedly, there are a few songs that need a few repeat listens to really absorb (strangely enough, "Black Boombox," which is not only the shortest song on the album, but the one most reminiscent of D Generation's heavier side...and I really liked D Generation. Oh well). It's hard to define genre aside from rock when describing the album as there's a bit of everything, which to some may sound unfocused, but to me, well, I just simply dig the variety. Producer Ted Hutt (Flogging Molly, Gaslight Anthem) recorded this in a way that really makes it sound like a band playing and jamming together and having fun (apparently Ted Hutt is really good at doing this from what I've heard of him so far), and it all blends together well.
I'd have to say my main problem with it so far is that at 10 songs, and less than 35 minutes long, the album could have used two or three more songs. Unfortunately, it's over by the time you really get into it.
At the end of the day, though, the record sounds very passionate (Malin's always been a fine lyricist and great songwriter), sounds fun, is well-executed (the touch added by the percussions is especially nice and helps to give the album a sound of its own)--and hey, Malin's back and having fun.
Give it a shot, there's something in this album for pretty much everyone.