Here’s something I wrote in the early part of the century about Pavement’s best LP ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’. You can hear a clipping (!) from the album below.
Sometimes a song hits you square between the eyes. The sound is enough to stop you in your tracks; enough to have you pressing your ear against the radio to ensure you catch the name of the band, enough to have you sending cash in unsealed envelopes to Fat Cat executives in the vain hope that a certain limited e.p would make the return journey. When ‘Summer Babe’ found it’s way into my heart, the craving was near unsustainable. It’s lo-fi ebb sat well with a newly post-graduated ambition not to fall into the 9 to 5 trap. Here was a song that was so laid-back and melodious you can almost see it hanging in the air. Who cares about clocking on when there’s an ice babe to entertain?
Fast-forward to 1994 and the release of Pavement’s second album ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’. At this stage Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg writing partnership had matured to somewhat iron the kinks and outrageous detours of their gloriously ramshackle debut ‘Slanted & Enchanted’. Not that any of the charm was lost; this progression meant the wholesome ideas that were once buried in a fog of musical sketches now came to the fore as grand masterpieces. As ever the playing is akin to a band of genius insomniacs, cajoling the noise from their instruments, nothing is hurried and the hopelessly beautiful music comes forth at will. Pavement created tunes where the essence wasn’t confined to the chorus, you often have to sit through the lot before you’re appetite was slaked. ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ succeeds in the consistency with which it throws out winning ideas. At least half the album is made up of classic pop songs. Like ‘Gold Soundz’, which is perhaps Pavement’s defining moment. As infectious as ebola and twice as incurable it is one the sweetest things to emerge from the 1990’s. Steve Malkmus’ eternally youthful exuberance goes into overdrive, his lyrics are dispassionately lovely (‘So drunk in the August sun, And you’re the kind of girl I like, Because you’re empty and I’m empty, And you can never quarantine the past’) and in the midst of all this the guitars tumble over each other in an ever-increasing pool of redolence.
While his songs may come across as inoffensively as a Sky News presenter, Steve Malkmus is well able to pen the odd poison lyric. The countrified breath of ‘Range Life’ ambles along as only piano keys, gently tugged strings and hushed percussion can. Before you know it, the Smashing Pumpkins and the Stone Temple Pilots are singled out for some old fashioned bare knuckled bile. For the most part, however, ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ is a joyful romp. I mean ‘Cut Your Hair’ is like a mint in a hangover induced mouth, all melodic chords and refreshing vocals. This album has so many hip shaking raptures it’s futile to pick out holes. ‘Elevate Me Later’ has such a lazy drumroll it could send infants within earshot to sleep. The slow tempered guitar progression is ably conjoined with Malkmus’ stoned delivery and several perfectly sequined la’s and ah’s. Similarly, ‘Unfair’ is dedicated throwaway pop, a mosh-friendly stomper that devours rickety timber floors. A potential template for all bands looking to be asymmetrical. Surely it must end there you think, but tracks like ‘Silent Kit’ and ‘Heaven is a Truck’ are so flagrantly effortless you’ll down tools and sway like a coconut tree on a balmy Caribbean eve.
There are nods to the early days when the thrills didn’t come so easy. ‘Hit The Plane Down’ has Mark E Smith’s influence all over it, dirty chords and the general feeling that it should have landed somewhere else. ‘Fillmore Jive’ is detached, aloof and flagrantly in need of some shuteye. And they even find time to slip in a Jazz mood piece ‘5-4=Unity’. Despite these interludes ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ is fabulously tangible, a rare populist excursion. While there’s no doubt that Pavement could have engineered a successful formula for mass appeal they were consistently led by their inner voices. ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ was the closest they got to progressing beyond the wings. The promo for ‘Cut Your Hair’ got extended airplay on MTV and for a time it seemed as if all the great forgotten bands of yesteryear had at last found a champion. This is a no less an important album than, say, Nevermind or Screamadelica. History will, no doubt, revisit ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ and it will rightfully be revered by a different generation. KD
Pavement – Cut Your Hair