Thursday, March 11, 2004

#47) Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (released in 1994, I was turned off by their Smashing Pumpkins-baiting in Rolling Stone and unimpressed by "Cut Your Hair" on MTV - the sound was down low, but I was finally sold on these guys when I saw the "Gold Soundz" video on 120 Minutes that summer. Five guys in Santa suits eating milk and cookies by the side of a highway after playing with bows and arrows...too much for a lonely nerd to resist. I bought the album at Arboria once I moved to State College and spent the rest of the summer listening to this album and little else. The first thing I'd ask people my freshman year of high school was whether or not they'd heard of Pavement. No one said yes.)

Like early REM, the eccentricities and incoherencies here imply somehow beauty for beauty’s sake rather than laziness. And like Reckoning, the music on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain feels more open and accessible than their previous work, despite maintaining its amateurish energy. Just as it did at 15, the effect of this music feels inexplicable and awesome, even if it no longer signifies a revolution of any sort, since more people were inspired by what Pavement got away with rather than what they actually created. Though the video for “Gold Soundz” remains one of my favorites, the music here no longer signifies oddball camaraderie, thanks to various dillusionizing experiences with the hipster set over the last decade (shit, has it been that long?).

Actually, the giddy background vocals on “Cut Your Hair” still carries some of that band o’ doofuses energy, and the song itself was deservedly their biggest hit; Malkmus projects cryptic sarcasm (though his cynic re: “special new bands” is gratefully clear) with a playfulness matched in the up-tempo sloppy-pop music. “Gold Soundz” has the romantic beauty of a Cure ballad with none of the mope, “Range Life” tops “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” easy, and “5-4=Unity” is a surprisingly enduring jazz goof. “Fillmore Jive” remains their finest there-will-be-no-encores barnburner, projecting weary fear atop arena rock dynamics.

When I’m not reveling in the music or considering my own uncertainties about ambition, “Fillmore Jive” makes me think about the Lollapalooza ’95 tour, easily the band’s mainstream peak. Robert Christgau’s SPIN review of a date on the tour implied the band had successfully transferred their sound to the arena context, but while the group did continue to become something closer to professional, their post-Wowee Zowee albums (and Malkmus’s solo works) shied away from encroaching stardom and focuses on craft-honing and pastoralism (unlike REM’s gradual rise to number one, Pavement peaked at no. 70 with the post-Lollapalooza Brighten The Corners and then stalled in the good-for-indie nether regions of the Billboard chart). Compare “Fillmore Jive”’s victorious solos to the admittedly fascinating cowardice of the Brighten The Corners closer “Fin.” Terror Twilight’s “Spit On A Stranger” or “Major Leagues” would have been fifth album breakthrough singles a la “The One I Love” had they been ballads on a rock album rather than the accessible jingles on a drowsy noodlefest. Though the reception for Pig Lib (which I have not heard) implies that Malkmus should be able to continue his cult career indefinitely (he’s still a bookworm cutie, as several of my lady friends will tell you), Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain remains his loudest and most exciting work.

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