Friday, January 11, 2008

10. Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)

A bone I'm throwing to Yoggoth? Perhaps. But between the three or four albums that were essentially dueling it out for my 10th spot, I ultimately had to admit that, even against the better angels of my nature, I would simply be more likely to put this album on than any of the others.

Why, my friends? Because when it comes down to it, as questionable as Steven Malkmus' pitch can sometimes be, as irritating as his slacker pose can often seem, the bottom line is, when he feels like it, the man can compose a mean rock song. Twelve of them, in fact. And they don't all sound the same! (Take that Kurt). He's like the Tom Petty of the lo-fi generation. Almost every single one of these tracks is built like a truck - or like heaven (which is a truck, of course). Not only is there a tasty lick on every chorus, but, loathe as I am to say it, every tune is well-produced and, despite ragged appearances, actually well-played.

How would one describe the sound of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain? Let me suggest this: if a Grateful Dead jam session happened to be crashed by the Replacements, and everyone decided to take meth instead of acid, you might end up with an album that sounded like Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Country-Jazz Rock for Pringles addicts. Lounge music for Tetris geeks. At times the botched chord changes and cringeworthy vocal acrobatics are, I will admit, not entirely to my taste, but I'll tell you what: I'd rather hear a band that can write songs as good as these play them sloppily than hear a band that writes terrible songs play them perfectly.

Yoggoth, of course, may not understand what I'm talking about, because Pavement's music sounds perfect to him. Maybe he's right. Maybe the rest of us are warped fools, and Yoggoth one of the blessed few tuned to the magic frequency where Pavement sounds like the Beatles. Only science can decide. All I can say is that my immediate impression of Pavement was of a band that was frustratingly insular and self-consciously obscure. But Yoggoth has repeatedly stressed, with utmost sincerity, that my impression is mistaken, and, you know, what the hell? After all this time I think I'll just give him the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, though, I really haven't understood what kind of audience Pavement had been hoping to reach. I suppose the answer is...Yoggoth and pals.

What about the songs themselves? Moments of wonder abound: the opening track, "Silence Kit," screeching to a halt, Malkmus portentiously warning, "Ecstasy feels so warm, inside/till five hours later I'm...chewin'...screwin' with my...hand." The way "Stop Breathin'" twiddles on a guitar lick for two minutes, perfectly aware that it doesn't need to do anything else. The possibly cryptic attempt at suburban rap in "Unfair": "Walk with your credit card in the air!/Swingin' nachos like you just don't care!" My favorite stretch of the album probably begins around what I tend to think of as Side Two, where most albums usually hit the wall. But not Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, which serves up "5-4=Unity," their wobbly tribute to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," "Heaven Is A Truck," a gracefully lugubrious ballad with a piano-based melody that Elliott Smith would have jumped off a cliff for, and "Range Life," the ultimate aging hippie anthem that never was. I mean, who can forget Malkmus' hilariously skewed take on his fellow '90s alt-rockers?:

Out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins
Nature kids, I/they don't have no function
I don't understand what they mean
And I could really give a fuck
The Stone Temple Pilots,
They're elegant bachelors
They're foxy to me, are they foxy to you?
I will agree they deserve absolutely nothing
Nothing more than me

Lord, I could go on, but I'll leave "Fillmore Jive," and the rest, to our Pavement guru extraordinaire.

Say goodnight to the last psychedelic band, indeed.


ninquelote said...

What the crap.

herr zrbo said...

Awww, where'd the comment from our fun friend go?

yoggoth said...

We brook no trespass.