Jesse Malin Reaches for the Stars on Reissued ‘Glitter in the Gutter’ Album

Out of the nine albums that singer-songwriter Jesse Malin has released, Glitter in the Gutter (2007) has stood out as an anomaly. It is, as he calls it, “the lost record” because it’s been long out of print due to the record label shutting down. Soon, however, fans will no longer have to hunt high and low for the album, as Wicked Cool Records will put out a remastered and expanded version of it on September 30.

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“It was a record where we were really reaching for the stars,” Malin tells American Songwriter, during a recent call from his New York City home. “Like that Oscar Wilde quote, ‘Everybody’s lying in the gutter, but they’re looking at the stars.’ So it was a record I really believed in, in a big way. And it was an interesting one because it’s different from all the others, in my opinion.”

In truth, though, Malin had already gone through a few significant stylistic changes by the time he made Glitter in the Gutter. He’d begun his professional music career as a teenager in New York’s hardcore punk scene before fronting the glam punk band D Generation in the 1990s. When he launched his solo career with The Fine Art of Self Destruction (2002) and The Heat (2004), he’d changed to a folk-driven style. But when it came time to record Glitter in the Gutter, his third solo album, he decided to revert to his exuberant rock roots.

“I wanted to make more of an electric guitar-driven record, and I wanted the songs to be played loud and have emotion that was more upbeat and less of a ‘sad bastard’ introspective thing,” he says. “It was probably a little bit of looking back at some of my work with D Generation, but having the perspective of being a solo songwriter guy and having a little bit more freedom. I wanted to do something that was empowering and in the present.”

As he worked on these new songs, Malin would send demos to his longtime friend Billie Joe Armstrong, the frontman for Green Day. That band had their own label, Adeline Records, which would go on to release Glitter in the Gutter. “They were very generous to me and very supportive,” Malin says.

When it came time to record, Malin decided another big change was in order. “I’d always been a New York artist, and I moved to L.A. because the label was out there. So I made this record down in North Hollywood, behind a crazy liquor store with a huge neon clown sign. It was a whole different culture. Living in L.A. was an enlightening experience, and I really enjoyed the time there.”

Besides using his own band for the recording process, Malin also recruited several notable guest musicians, including Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters), Jakob Dylan (The Wallflowers), and Ryan Adams.

One guest artist stands out in particular, however: Bruce Springsteen, who dueted with Malin on the heartrending ballad “Broken Radio.” After meeting Malin at a show just before Glitter in the Gutter was recorded, Springsteen had offered to contribute to it in some way—an unexpected offer that Malin says “was so sweet and shocking and amazing.” Unlike the other tracks, this one was completed at Springsteen’s home studio in New Jersey, where an accompanying video was also shot.

Beyond featuring Springsteen, “Broken Radio” is also a particularly special song for Malin because it’s intensely personal. He wrote it for his mother, who passed away from breast cancer when she was only 43 years old; Malin was still a teenager at the time.

“My mom was a frustrated singer,” he says. “She always wanted to be a performer, a recording artist, but she had to raise two kids. She was single. She was young. We were broke. So she’d sing along in the car to the radio, and get really excited on certain songs. And she’d sing in the house to the mirror. So the song was a tribute to her.”

Jesse Malin and Bruce Springsteen – Photo by Danny Clinch

Given that history, Malin realized that it would be a perfect fit to have Springsteen sing on the track: “It hit me that he was one of the voices of the radio when I was growing up, and that song is about that.”

The Glitter in the Gutter reissue features a reworked version of “Broken Radio,” where Springsteen’s vocal is kept intact, along with some other original elements, but everything else has been stripped back “to make it a little more exposed and just a little simpler,” Malin says. (The song’s video has also been given an upgrade to include additional behind-the-scenes footage.)

“It’s always a special song for me, and I think people that have lost somebody dear to them seem to know what it’s about somehow,” Malin says. “It’s about survival, which is always what my music’s been about.”

“Aftermath,” which closes out Glitter in the Gutter, is another standout song; the poignant, shimmering ballad has long been a fan favorite at Malin’s concerts. He recalls writing it after seeing Yoko Ono in Central Park. “I was thinking about people that had ideals and values and were really working hard to change the world, [like] John Lennon and Yoko,” he says. “There’s always this continual yearning to try to change the world through art and music. It’s not easy, and it’s a constant battle. The metaphor [in the lyrics] might be a broken relationship, but I think it’s a broken society.”

Malin says it’s a happy coincidence that Glitter in the Gutter is being reissued on the fifteenth anniversary of its original release. “It’s nice to have it out there in the world again,” he says. “A lot of times, you go into making records and you don’t know [how it’ll go]. It’s a mystery. You just start working and whatever happens, happens. And I really enjoy that, too. But this one, I set out to do the thing that we did.”

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