Monday, 04 December 2006

ARTIST: Pavement
DATE: 12-04-06

REVIEW BY: Casey Lombardo
ALBUM: Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition
LABEL: Matador Records

Now Playing: “Grounded” from Wowee Zowee

Ah, sweet Wowee Zowee. The difficult third album. The one that true blue Pavement-philes derive the greatest pleasure in championing: it’s neither the definitive classic (Slanted & Enchanted) as deemed by establishment rock journos nor the beloved-by-girlfriends, 120 Minutes mainstay (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain). No, with its mixture of kaleidoscopic songwriting and generously baked jams, Wowee was destined to be embraced by a rare breed of snobbish rock fan, blaring from only the loneliest of dorm rooms in 1995 and stocked at only the most “alternative” record shops.

However, that it has become and eternal favorite is no great surprise. Wowee found Stephen Malkmus in peak form, melting down the gold soundz that had brought Pavement its modest breakthrough success, spicing up the arrangements and dreaming up a pantload of instantly memorable slack axioms. The boys behind him filled their bongs and then filled out the rock with jazzy guitar countermelodies, sinuous basslines and…well, whatever it is that Bob Nastanovich does.

The resulting album exudes a sense of difficulty and ambition that belies the careless exuberance of Pavement’s execution, beginning with the coy come-ons of “We Dance” and running headlong into the divine jangle of “Rattled by the Rush.” The elegiac strains of pedal steel on “Father to a Sister of Thought” predated indie rock’s recent fixation with country overtones by almost a decade. Where lesser bands might phone in tossed off tracks like “Brinx Job” and “Grave Architecture,” in Pavement’s hands they sound absolutely profound.

Shit, Wowee was so bold, that they risked compromising its brilliance by signing off with one of Spiral Stairs’ worst songs ever, the pointless “Western Homes” (incidentally, the reissue makes up for this sequencing gaffe by including “Painted Soldiers,” arguably Spirals’ greatest contribution Pavement, previously relegated to oblivion on the Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy soundtrack).

The Sordid Sentinels Edition rewards diehards with a treasure trove of 32 era-specific b-sides, outtakes, compilation curios and live tracks. Wowee leftovers like “False Skorpion” and the effortlessly lilting “Kris Kraft” are blessedly rescued from obscurity, likewise the spacey/snarkyPacific Trim EP. Emanating sublime sass, Malkmus leads the band through an endearingly winking take on “No More Kings” from the Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks collection in perhaps the second disc’s most quintessential moment.

In subsequent years, Pavement would opt not to reach for the diverse, dizzying heights that they achieved while cutting this sprawling, 18-track masterpiece in Memphis. Their final works—though special in their own right—would spin off into more frigid climates and the band would never again sound quite so vital—nor so perfectly nonchalant.

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