This is the third in a series of my favorite albums of all time.
Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (released 1994)
Now this post is probably already seen as blasphemy to any true indie rock aficionado, at least unless one of the top 2 favorites of all time is Pavement's debut album that preceded this one, the seminal Slanted & Enchanted. But while I absolutely love S&E and agree that is it one of the great albums of all time, and that its influence as an early touchstone of indie rock is undeniable, it did not make my top 5 list, and was left off for this, their slightly superior follow up, my #3 favorite album.
Pavement, of course, was a founding member of the underground indie rock scene that developed in the late '80s and early '90s, and praise for their debut album grew to almost mythic levels of excellence after a few unfinished demos were released and got a glowing review in Spin magazine. They since went on to become one of the most successful truly independent rock bands of all time, solidifying their success with a string of excellent albums, none of which disappointed until 1999's Terror Twilight, which signaled the end of the band. Lead singer Stephen Malkmus and lead guitarist Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg both formed separate bands that released albums in 2001, Malkmus' containing the song "Vague Space" (from which this blog was titled). Anyway, Rob Jovanovich wrote an excellent book about their career titled Perfect Sound Forever, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is a fan.
The album starts off with just a wonderful blast of pure pop excellence, titled "Silence Kit":
Silent kid, no one to remind you, you've got no hit, no reels to remind you,
Silent kid, don't take your poncho home on the road, goddamn you.
Silent kid, don't lose your graceful tone.
It is a wonderful song, furthering the tradition of excellent lead tracks from Pavement ("Summer Babe", "We Dance", "Stereo") with a breezy southern Cal beat and pulsing drums. "Elevate Me Later" follows, another pop beauty, almost proving that Malkmus and the boys can just whip up catchy tunes whenever they please. "Stop Breathin'" is a slower song that doesn't do much for me, but the next track became their biggest mainstream hit, the mid-90s MTV staple "Cut Your Hair".
It's a great song, again with a catchy beat and hummable verses, but different enough to sound fresh and original, especially as compared to the factory-produced "hits" that would take over corporate records and radio station at the end of the decade. But that was what made Pavement so special. They just played great music. It wasn't calculated, it wasn't particulary deep, but it was filled with more hooks than any band had a right to create, and the elliptical lyrics suggested something more, something greater than just a bunch of so-Cal surfers playing some chords. Most of all, it was a truly original sound.
After "Newark Wilder", the band kicks it into high gear with the rollicking "Unfair" followed by the immortal "Gold Sounds", the centerpiece of the album.
So drunk in the August sun, and you're the kind of girl I like,
Because you're empty, and I'm empty.
And we can never quarantine the past.
The country-tinged "Range Life" follows an instrumental track, and becomes one of their most beautiful tracks to date, a lazy, hazy exploration of life in a band on the road.
After the glow, the scene, the stage, the set,
Talk becomes slow, but there's one thing I'll never forget.
Hey you've got to pay your dues, before you pay the rent.
It's accompanied by a gorgeous melody that just makes you want to sit down and chill on a hot summer's day with a cold beverage in your hand. And it also includes the infamous digs at more popular alternative acts at the time.
Out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins,
Nature's kids, but they don't have a function.
I don't understand what they mean, and I could really give a fuck.
The Stone Temple Pilots are elegant bachelors,
They're foxy to me, are they foxy to you? I will agree,
That they mean absolutely nothing, nothing more than me.
And of course, history now remembers Pavement as one of the great underground bands of all-time, while the Smashing Pumpkins and especially STP are only remembered for their fleeting glimpse of superstardom in the wake of the early '90s grunge explosion, that is now long forgotten.
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain ends with the mediocre "Heaven is a Truck", the questionable "Hit the Plane Down", and the brilliant "Fillmore Jive", a long, elliptical song about - well, I'm not real sure, except that the chorus repeats "I need to sleep" over and over again, in epic fashion. And believe me, I can relate to that sentiment.
All in all, just a great pop album. There's nothing on here quite as good as "Summer Babe" or "Here", the best tracks from their debut Slanted & Enchanted, but the one-off missteps and noise experiments that littered that album have been all but exculpated on this follow-up, making it a smoother and more pleasant listening experience. Like they did on their debut, Pavement recently released an expanded edition of this album, containing demos of these songs, B-sides from the singles, live tracks, and unreleased and otherwise rare singles that were created around the time of the album. It's 49 tracks in total, selling for $15 at Amazon. You really can't beat that. (And while you're there, pick up the 48-track Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe for the same price).