Tuesday, December 10, 2013

#17 Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

'The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.' F. Scott Fitzgerald
From black roots music to whiter than white college rock. From the militant and spiritual to the wry and sardonic. Tea to gin and tonic. Pavement strike me as the kind of band that have probably sunk a few cocktails in swanky bars in their time. From Misty in Roots, a group that could easily claim to be saying something important to Pavement, a band from the American underground circuit it would be harder to make such a case although they did chronicle their times. From pavement to penthouse ironically. Peel liked both groups very much. Me, I'm currently enjoying listening to my latest vinyl acquisition, Pavement's second album, considered by some to be their best. So it's next up on the turntable for discussion.
'Nobody could accuse Pavement of being rock archetypes. Take the group's frontman Stephen Malkmus, who spends much of his spare time flyfishing virgin rivers and scaling 18,000-foot mountains in America's Pacific northwest. Or guitarist Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg, who, when he isn't tending his meticulously manicured garden in Berkeley, California, is usually to be found on one of the Bay Area's many golf courses.

How about drummer Steve West, a heavily-bearded man in Blundstone boots who breeds dachshunds (40 of them, at latest head-count) on his eight-acre property in rural Virginia. Or bassist Mark Ibold, who resides in Manhattan and - in indie-rock circles, at least - is a cook of legendary repute.'
The history of bands in Rock who gave themselves ironic names indicating that they themselves are ironic might be worthy of a short article though I'm not going to write it here. Just a couple of paragraphs. It seems to be mostly an American thing. You could start off with Steely Dan who named themselves after a strap on dildo mentioned in Willam Burrough's Naked Lunch. Nice! Their music was consistently sharp, witty and ironic The stuff of great fiction. They were cleverer than you and I.
Some punk band names were ironic but this was too fully committed a time for it too be truly reflected in the music. Ironic naming really got started in the eighties. Sonic Youth, Violent Femmes, Camper Van Beethoven, Butthole Surfers. All of these names reflect degrees of irony and cynicism which shows up in their music to greater or lesser extents.. Rock and Roll becoming middle aged and self-reflective as much of the indie sector became bleached of the influence of black music. Bands could be grouped into general categories; noisy, fey, esoteric and ironic.
Pavement quickly became Kings of Irony. They chanced on their name flipping through a dictionary. Pavement is the British name for that track of concrete that we walk along next to the side of the side of the road which Americans call sidewalk. Forgive me if I'm telling you stuff you already know here. It's a good band name but surely an ironic one.  Main man Stephen Malkmus has said it's officially the second nicest sounding word in the English language. Cellar door being the first. There's no real way of discussing this. Except to wonder why they didn't call themselves Cellar Door.
I couldn't begin to give a proper back-history of Pavement here. It would involve an endless catalogueing of chance meetings of band members, scheming and rehearsing, record labels and releases. This will not draw in the casual reader and those in the know would realise that I'm just cribbing stuff from bios on other websites.  In any case here's a link for those that want more. It's not in itself a fascinating tale to rank with McCartney turning up at a fete to watch Lennon's skiffle group for the first time or Marr knocking on Morrissey's front door. In many ways the story of Pavement (and this is no fault of the band itself though it's reflected in a lot of their music), is the story of Rock music becoming less exciting. More of a specialist concern.
Pavement could be classed as Record Player Rock in that listening to them you can't help but make connections with albums you've heard before. Even better if you own them because then you're in on the joke. Ooh there's The Fall, R.E.M, Sonic Youth, Television, Replacements, New Order. They chuck all of these things and much, much more into the mix, stir them up and spew them out with enough giddy enthusiasm of their own and Malkmus's distinctive lyric writing style to top it off. The main criticism you could throw at them would be lack of heart, surely a key component in great music of any kind. Still, this is Pavement and this is what you'll get. I've always found you get a fair share of warmth in recompense.
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is their sophomore effort. I've been in touch with a friend based in America to check on the correct definition. It means its their second album proper as I'm sure you know very well. It followed on from Slanted and Enchanted which I'm not so fond of as for me the borrowing from The Fall in particular on that album just gets out of hand. It does though have one of their career finest moments. One of their most affecting songs and possibly Malkmus's best ever lyrics. There's heart in the delivery here.
'I was dressed for success,
But success it never comes.'
First track of Crooked Rain is equally fine. Silence Kid commences with the beautifully rehearsed sound of a band tuning up. This is Pavement. Artfully, knowingly out of tune. Then the instruments kick off and there's a great tough, gritty, riff and the sound of guitars duelling, interlocking and weaving. It's a statement of intent and confidence, always an important thing to be able to pull off on Track One Side One of your second album.
It's a very similar opening in terms of construction to Heaven Up Here and Meat is Murder which I've already reviewed on here. It's a band statement. The vocals don't break in until a minute in as with the two 'sophomore' albums mentioned above. Pavement, as avid record collectors, would have been aware that they needed to come in first inning bats swinging. Just before Malkmus sings there's a moment where he gives a vocal yodel that tells you things are about to kick in. It's beautifully crafted.
The song maintains the momentum. For the past few days when thinking about starting to write this the origin of the vocal melody of the song has been nagging at me. This morning I've nailed it. It's this.
The heart beating at the core of the song is Buddy Holly's. Pavement take his idea and melody (consciously or otherwise) stir fry it and serve it up with a nouvelle cuisine relish. Malkmus adds impenetrable post modern lyrics. It would have sounded quite new when it came out. But it's grounded in very traditional ingredients and recipe. This makes it work.
Elevate Me Later continues much in the same vein. Pavement have come to a formula very early of sabotaging their own songs, of stopping and starting them that would serve them as well as Pixies slow / fast formula had for them. This is pop music only slanted and crooked. Their album titles give the game away. Songs for the main part don't outstay their welcome in any respect.

It's worth quoting a whole lyric here. Elevate Me Later's goes as follows:
'Well you greet the tokens and stamps
Beneath the fake-oil burnin' lamps
In the city we forgot to name
The concourse is four-wheeled shame
And the courthouse's double-breast
I'd like to check out your public protests
Why you're complaining ta!

You sleep with electric guitars
Range rovin' with the cinema stars
And I wouldn't want to shake their hands
'cause they're in such a high-protein land
Because there's 40 different shades of black
So many fortresses and ways to attack
So why you complaining? ta!'
I wouldn't begin to interpret it. It's trying very hard not to care. It's written and played by well-educated, articulate men who seem pretty happy with the way things are. It's literate but doesn't give up its secrets. Pavement were definite forerunners of a certain kind of American trust fund indie musician. Weezer among their contemporaries were doing a similar if slightly less hip thing. Grizzly Bear and Vampire Weekend are probably amongst the most prominent, recent examples. They seem comfortable as people and this is reflected in the music. It's difficult sometimes to entirely see beyond the artfully constructed, privileged surfaces of these songs. Because Pavement won't let you.
Perhaps I'm being overly cynical. Pavement pulled up some trees when they first arrived critically if not commercially. Here's a paragraph from the Rolling Stone review of Crooked Rain.
'Rock is dead — long live rock. The Who introduced this contradictory sentiment 20 years ago, around the time of punk's birth, and Pavement revive it for punk's rebirth — and not a moment too soon — on their stunning new album, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. While the Who smashed guitars and eardrums, Pavement smash preconceptions on Crooked Rain — about how an indie-rock band should sound, about whether "alternative music" is an alternative to anything — creating an album that's darker and more beguiling than their heralded previous efforts.'

It's difficult to think of the album as stunning at twenty years remove now, so much of what it does is so familiar given the huge undoubted influence Pavement has had on indie music of  a certain kind. They certainly made their mark. A few years ago when the band reformed and curated and played at an All Tomorrow's Parties festival, tickets sold out in record time. They established their niche.

'It's just like music when you reckon it up. It's like listening to Pavement isn't it? They haven't got an original idea in their heads.' Mark E. Smith

When Blur had their crisis of confidence after Country House, guitarist Graham Coxon self-consciously steered them back towards the underground by insisting they started sounding more like bands like Pavement. Malkmus for a while during the period stayed at Damon Albarn and Justin Frischmann's house.

'Among Blur's inner circle , only Alex James seemed to be unwilling to embrace their influence. 'I didn't like that archness; pretending to be bad musicians,' he says. 'They sounded like a sixth form band to me.'

 'Got struck by the first volley
of the war in the corps
never held my service
send em a wire, give em my best
this ammunition never rests
no one serves coffee, no one wakes up'
Stop Breathing  A song about tennis. And the civil war.
As always on this blog, reviewing this is an interesting experience. Pavement aren't a band I care about much either way. If they didn't allow themselves to care too much then why should I ? But they are a group with a place in history. They've prefigured a lot. Nevertheless, they've always ended up halfway through my racks of records. Never at the front. Never at the back. Certainly never consigned to the rows on the lowest shelf of my bookcases where they'll surely never be played for months if not years.
This is exactly how I remember my feelings for them first time round. They emerged in the early nineties when there was a real glut of American bands and they seemed to be in the pack. R.E.M were out in front and then Nirvana just exploded but there was also Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Smashing Pumpkins, Breeders, Soundgarden, Lemonheads, Buffalo Tom, Flaming Lips, Yo La Tengo, Screaming Trees, Jesus Lizard, Nine Inch Nails, Weezer, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Faith No More, Guided By Voices, Ween, Half Japanese, Alice in Chains, Ministry, Babes in Toyland, Tad, and so on and so forth. I preferred the former few to Pavement and preferred them to the latter. But they were fairly mid-ranking. Just the fact that they're still around as an important influence whilst the majority of the bands listed above have a negligible imprint of any kind on much that comes out now is perhaps in itself tribute to their staying power and legacy. 
'Prior to Crooked Rain, Pavement was a faceless amalgam of indie-rock reflexes in some of their purest forms: critically acclaimed melodic noise-rock, a throwaway band name, a weakness for collage cover art. Scenesters embraced it all as an instant byword for coolness, and the band exulted in what one song called “miles and miles of style.'
Perhaps Pavement do care or are trying to care on this album. There's a lot of evident self doubt that seeps out even as they exude effortless cool for the indie masses. Stop Breathing is this album's equivalent  of Here from Slanted. It's a slow, wistful ballad that builds up gradually to a dissonant crescendo. For once for this band this is noise put to a good use. It seems dissatisfied with it's own entropy and the entropy it sees all around it.
They are certainly much more of a band here in the traditional sense than they were on Slanted having recruited several group members who would establish their core during the touring for that album and ejected leftfield, maverick drummer Gary Young during its recording. They sound, despite their trademark lethargy as if they're rattling along in the same direction.
'Ten years ago, our nation’s two leading rock critics declared the premier band of the era to be nothing but indolent hacks. “These dudes aren’t trying hard enough,” said Beavis, or possibly Butt-head, as the cartoon pair watched the video for “Cut Your Hair,” Pavement’s breakthrough single from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. The dude had a point.
The video now stands as one of the most remarkably half-assed slouches toward stardom in history. It was set at a barbershop and featured guitarist Scott Kannberg in a gorilla suit. You get the idea. While there were a few surrealist sight gags, the real joke was that Pavement was in a video . . . on MTV! Get it? Butt-head didn’t. Nor did his constituents, who turned out to be numerous. Ten years ago, Pavement was poised—like Beck and a few others—to pick up the scepter from rock’s great nineties emancipators, Nirvana. So, like Beck, the Pavement boys took the stage at Lollapalooza ’95, brought their airy jams and arcane wordplay to the newly enlightened masses, and got the same reaction Beck did: boos, flung mud, and hurled water bottles.'
It's a terrible video. You feel almost embarrassed for them. Pop musicians are supposed to look like they're trying. If they're trying to be funny they should be funny. Nirvana had down something similar just before they broke big and got it right. This misses every target imaginable.
Malkmus clearly saw the turn in the B road where he and Pavement were chugging along. The song itself is about that fork in the road. Cobain and Nirvana had already headed off down this turning towards the great American highway and fame, acclaim, insanity and its resultant emotional meltdown. It wasn't for Pavement. They had their rock climbing, cooking, gardening, dachshunds and golf. They got scared.
Cut Your Hair was their opportunity for a breakout pop single. It has the hooks and the tune to merit it but the MTV single is almost purpose designed to stymie once and for all the chance of this ever happening. Although you can hardly blame them given what had happened to Nirvana it's hardly the boldest, most principled statement in music history. Cut Your Hair still sounds fine to me but I prefer to listen to it without it's accompanying video. Malkmus himself seems to realise this too in retrospect.
There was some hubris going on and sour indie rash. Oh, and some true fear as well.”
'The Grace Kelly of Rock' - Courtney Love
'Pavement was never about principles-- at least not ones you could easily name. An anti-fashion statement is still a fashion statement, but Pavement was on another trip. They liked to make fun of rock iconography, but they were smart enough to avoid offering an alternative. You never really knew where Pavement stood on anything, which kept an air of mystery and made their music malleable.'
Pavement are not a bad band to set out to analyse some of the basic contradictions apparent in life. A fundamentally conservative leftfield group. Just as people take up left-wing trappings while indulging in consumer durable indulgences. Malkmus is more than smart enough to recognise his flaws and the limitations of his appeal. He has said that they're a band for middle-class hipsters. This in itself would be enough to make them despised by many purists. Not me. I won't be putting them at the front of my collection or professing undying love but they write and construct decent melodies.
'The finest Rock band of the 90s' Robert Christgau
Newark Wilder is lower tempo but frankly nondescript. It's time to make for the bathroom if they're playing it live. It seems to be about decadent aristocratic ennui. Reminds me of the pages of Scott Fitzgerald. It's spaced and moody.
'Crowds of the people and voices and steeples and wedding rings
Wild are the horses and break-up divorces and separate rooms'
It doesn't offend or let the side down. It slots into place but I need to move on.
'We're pretty melodic. We're West Coast. I mean we rock. With some bent notes.' Stephen Malkmus
Unfair is much more like it. Setting off with those jarring, discordant, detuned Sonic Youth riffs that do it for me every time. Keeping it driving and raging for the briefest two and a half minutes that go by like a breeze. It's almost a nineties update of L.A.Woman. It's a grand tour of Malkmus's Californian stomping grounds. It reads like a couple of pages of Brett Easton Ellis. It's getting in a car and going for a drive with the top down and friends, music and liquor for company.
The lyric sheet makes complete sense and needs little analysis. It's an elegy to a beautiful, rotten spoilt group of people and a part of the world that's probably much more wonderful than it deserves to be. It's autobiography as much of the album must surely be. Pavement have got to be 'the last psychedelic band'. Malkmus is in 'the slow sucking part of me' 'lost in the foothills of his pride'. It's a band on the verge of making it who lack the stomach for the fight because they see the contradictions.They'd rather go for the drive.
'Down in Santa Rosa over the bay
Across the grapevine to L.A.
We got desert, we got trees
We got the hills of Beverly
Let's burn the hills of Beverly
Walk with your credit card in the air
Swing your nose just like you just don't care
This is the slow sick sucking part of me
This is the slow sick sucking part of me
And when I suck in kisses, it's ours
Up to the top of the Shasta gulch
And to the bottom of the Tahoe lakes
Man made deltas and concrete rivers
The south takes what the north delivers
You film hack, I don't use your fade
Lost in the foothills of my pride
Trocadero, say good night
To the last psychedelic band
From Sac to northern Cal
From Sac to northern Cal
Take it neighbor, 'cause you're my neighbor
And I need favors, you're my neighbor
You've done me favors, 'cause I'm your neighbor
I'm not your neighbor, you Bakersfield trash
Trash! Trash!'
'Gold Soundz' (from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, 1994)“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”
The sound of ‘Gold Soundz’ is so blissful and fast and heart-in-mouth melancholic. Lines jump out at you, that are surface-sentimental, that fit the flow of the music and that the listener can hook their heart into and take comfort from, while at the same time they are surrounded in enough lyrical gibberish and detritus to prevent them from being anything other than fragments, protected from the uncool, sappy obviousness of the nostalgia-prizing, relationship-questioning narrative of most contemporaneous indie rock songs.'
I'm still not fully convinced about some of the grand claims made for Pavement by their adherents. This quote is from The Quietus website for whom the band are virtually patron saints. Gold Soundz, the first song on Side 2 of Crooked sounds on first listen or in my case over a lifetime at least the fiftieth like a breezy, ringing pop song. It reminds me a bit of the Beach Boys. Not because of its sound. More its feeling.
The reviewer above clearly sees it as a major work. I like the way the guitars chime and clang. I like looking at Malkmus's lyrics because he's put thought into them and they look good together like a well judged outfit or a well prepared dish. But 'you can't quarantine the past' strikes me as a rewrite of 'you can't put your arms round a memory'  Just as 'I was dressed for success' revisits 'I would go out tonight. But I haven't got a stitch to wear.' It's pick and mix. He's got the brain but the jury's out about the heart and the nerve.
Maybe I'm being fanciful but for me when I look at the lyrics it seems like a hymn to shallowness in addition to self conscious incoherence which frankly aren't things I feel like holding too close to my chest. Pavement lack the guts and integrity of Nirvana, R.E.M or Sonic Youth. Cataloguing Generation X is not enough for me. I wish they'd critique and respond to it more rather than embrace and embody it. Still. Nice tune!
'In a 1994 interview with Option magazine, Steve Malkmus recalled his pre-Pavement band Straw Dog opening for Black Flag in Stockton, California. "I was backstage before the show and all those guys, they looked so scary, I was afraid of them," Malkmus told writer Jason Fine. "Like, Greg Ginn was mixing up this stuff in a glass. It was probably just protein powder or some healthy drink, but I thought it was heroin or something." Observing Henry Rollins squeezing a cue ball to pump himself up, Malkmus compared the Sisyphean ritual to smashing your head against a brick wall. "That's what I thought punk was, you know. That's when I knew that maybe I'm just not punk enough."
For 5-4 = Unity they get it just right in terms of pacing. Sometimes an instrumental is required. Especially if it's as good as this one. Pavement understand like R.E.M. did, particularly on their first two records that found sounds between tracks make towards great evocative albums. It's David Brubeck meets The Beatles She's So Heavy with added sound effects that sound like something getting sucked into a passing twister. It works a treat.
'Just found out Smashing Pumpkins is playing with Pavement in Brazil. It’s gonna be one of those New Orleans type funerals… I say that because they represent the death of the alternative dream, and we follow with the affirmation of life part… funny how those who pointed the big finger of ’sell out’ are the biggest offenders now…yawn. they have no love… by the way, we’ll be the band up there playing NEW songs because we have the love xx' Billy Corgan 2011 (The Smashing Pumpkins)
Range Life for better or worse is probably the centre point of Crooked Rain. It's one of only two long songs on here, the most distinctive musically in terms of its laid back, lazy indie country and western twang and certainly the one that has given Malkmus most grief over the years. For obvious reasons it got more press attention than any other song on the record. It's lyrics speak for themselves. There's not much that's oblique or guarded about this one. Though being Pavement there's still a bit of that. Still the message is relatively plain. It's clearly felt sentiments are summed up in an early line.
'Hey you've got to pay your dues. Before you pay the rent.'
'Punk confrontation was largely gone from the indie world (in the 90s); in it's place was a suffocating insularity, whether it was Cat Power's depressive mutterings or Pavement's indie rock about indie rock. However beautiful or evocative they might have been. Sticking your neck out too far was verboten.'
Pavement, more than any other band that I can think of represent tactical retreat. Michael Azerad in his excellent book  Our Band Could Be Your Life describes the remarkable pioneering wave of American underground bands of the eighties and how they blazed the trail and mapped the territory for the waves of Grunge and Indie that followed; Mission of Burma, The Minutemen, Black Flag, Husker Du, Minor Threat, The Replacements, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, Big Black, Fugazi, Mudhoney, Beat Happening, Dinosaur Jr. Each and every one of them punk in their way and uncompromising in the extreme. All of them to varying degrees projecting fiercely outwards at America and all that was wrong with it.
I never saw Pavement but I get the impression that there was a fair bit of staring at shoes and hiding behind fringes onstage and in their general outlook. It's music about the scene. Life on the road. And they make it sound frighteningly like a nine to five sometimes. Nirvana's explosion to prominence in the early 90s, dragging the underground overground with them led to strange bedfellows on bills, backstage, on tour buses and at awards ceremonies, in the great Grunge goldrush, compromised principles and clashing ideals.
'Schools out. What did you expect?'
Nirvana took on Guns and Roses and Axl Rose in particular at the 1992 MTV Award Ceremonies. Kurt Cobain aimed potshots elsewhere at Pearl Jam and others. Pavement, acting as indie-gatekeepers had a shy at Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots here. Both bands were seen as brash Metal opportunists leaping on the bandwagon that Nevermind had afforded them that would never have been there for them otherwise.
For the record I saw Smashing Pumpkins in 1983 just after the release of Siamese Dream and they remain one of the best live bands I've ever seen. But Billy Corgan was clearly an unreconstituted rocker and a wannabe who virtually clambered onto the speaker stands during the encore to throw rock star shapes at the audience and thrust forward his guitar in a way no Pavement guitarist ever did throughout the long course of their career. 
Despite the great records and live gigs he was a part of he was more the spiritual heir of Ted Nugent and Brian May than Johnny Ramone or James Williamson and was never likely to gain admittance to the inner circle of indie royalty populated by Cobain, Malkmus, Thurston Moore and Michael Stipe. Regardless of whether Courtney Love took a shine to him. He lacked the necessary punk credentials. He's clearly never forgiven Malkmus.
 'I’m aware that music is really about that year, so I’ll throw in stuff that’s topical'
So what to say about Range Life ? It's a college playground spat. Corgan allegedly attempted to have them thrown off the Lollapalooza tour as a direct consequence of the song. He got his revenge when Pavement went down with its audience like a lead balloon. It sounds like indie lite but its sentiments are hardly admirable.
It captures a condition I suppose. The ennui and lethargy of life eternally on the road. Soundchecks, gigs, publicity exercises, answering the same round of interview questions again and again from state to state, having to rub shoulders with bands you're in direct competition with and despise, trying to avoid the obvious comforting deadeners of pills, drink and drugs. Poor Pavement! The song is a close relation of Don't Go Back To Rockville, R.E.M's own country and western excursion from their own second album. Reckoning. Just without the joy.
Next track Heaven Is a Truck is an archetypal Pavement slow song that lopes by in about two and a half minutes and leaves little trace. It's aural indie wallpaper. The piano tinkles, Malkmus sighs into a microphone, guitars uncoil. It seems to be about drunken seduction perhaps involving mild bondage and the band get into the spirit of things by affecting to be half cut themselves. Never having noticed the song before I've listened through it four times in a row now in an attempt to review it. This hasn't been an unpleasant sensation but having given it ten minutes of my time I think I'll stop now. Here it is.
'I love Pavement so much. When Crooked Rain came out, I followed them on tour for four stops, Grateful Dead-style: Minneapolis, Chicago… maybe Milwaukee? And Louisville. There were The Replacements and all this punk rock stuff, but Pavement were from a middle class background – they seemed well-bred, these put-together guys and they played music that had this smirk to it. You wanted to be in on the joke...' Craig Finn (The Hold Steady)
Since when has a smirk been a good thing? Or being from a middle class background rather than a working class one? I'm afraid I can't concur with the guy from The Hold Steady. Not about Pavement being direct heirs of The Replacements. They were, with the jagged aspects smoothed off. Not about them hailing from middle class stock. This is as plain as day. But about wanting to be in on the joke. Because I don't think this option is generally available with Pavement.  
To illustrate the point, next up is their Fall song Hit the Plane Down. They pop up all over their early releases. There are several of them on Slanted and Enchanted which is why I've reviewed this album instead of that one. I would have got you down trying to write about them because they get me down when I try to listen to them too closely. It all strikes me as one huge in-joke with no punchline.
I'm not a huge fan of The Fall myself. This puts me in a minority when talking to people with 'my kind of taste'. As a band they've always make me feel that I'm being shouted at in a pub by a drunk towards closing time. Perhaps I prefer the smooth to the rough. However, whatever you might say about The Fall, they demand respect. They have an undeniable legacy. You can't just swipe their influences, mood, riffs, beat, basslines, vocal style, tempo and very essence, sheer off their rough edges, chuck them in the back of your jalopy and hotfoot it down to the beach barbecue to create a scene with your posh mates. It's theft pure and simple no matter how good your dad's lawyers are.
Pavement got a lot better when they got over their Fall infatuation, began to stir up a more diverse set of ingredients and by default let a bit more of their own personality come through. Hit The Plane Down serves to let old fans know that these are their heroes after all and let new ones know that they're going to a better place.
'Pavement is where the slackadaisical, driving glory of the US garage tradition (Loaded, "Roadrunner", Surfer Rosa), meets the exquisitely rarefied noise-for-noise's sake alchemy of
Faust/Can/Neu, meets the warp factor of The Fall. Pavement's golden horde of guitars billow and furl, flare and swarm, in a way that's simply lightyears out of reach of the shaggys.' Simon Reynolds
And so to Fillmore Jive the album's final song. You have to hand it to the band. They have a way with song titles. They also have a finely developed sense of where they want to place themselves in terms of Rock's grand tradition. Pavement emerged round about the same time as the arrival of magazines like Mojo. Journalists, bands and audiences were coming to conclusions that Rock and Roll's potential as an inventive, revolutionary force was exhausted.
Filmore Jive is a vey finely judged song in this context. The Fillmore and Fillmore West in San Francisco were legendary music venues made famous by promoter Bill Graham and forever associated with the Golden Age of Rock and Roll that lasted from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies.
The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Byrds, The Doors, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Aretha Franklin, Neil Young, Miles Davis, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, The Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd, Elton John and Cream all played at the venue. Pavement choose to place themselves in and possibly at the end of this line.
"My friend was saying I shouldn't say there are too many bands. All right - there's too much writing about music then. I'm at this point now where I probably read more about music than I listen to it, which is a terrible state to be in. Most criticism nowadays seems to be concerned with trying to keep music romantic and interesting." Stephen Malkmus
The song seems to be about personal and cultural exhaustion. Trust me I read and wrote essays about Post Modern fiction while I was at university. This is well trodden territory. The song sets off with Malkmus offering a lady, some mythical Rock and Roll lady no doubt, to come bleed with him. To come and taste from his chalice. It's a special one. Made of gold. But he can't convert. He needs to sleep. As he tells us numerous times. Then to a keening guitar solo. A post punk variation on the classic tradition. From there he draws the camera back to paint a picture of the whole tired, jaded, scene.
'The jam kids on the vespas
And glum looks on their faces
The street is full of punks
They got spikes
See those rockers with their long curly locks
Goodnight to the rock and roll era
Cause they don't need you anymore
Little girl, boy, girl,'
Then the guitars really kick in as Malkmus shrieks, just as he did to herald the album in. It's the end of history. There was much talk about this in the 1990s. The conclusion that was often drawn was that American Capitalism had won. It all seems quite a long time ago now. Still Pavement are playing their guitars and even they seem to be enjoying themselves.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse at their height playing for the Generation X crowd. One last encore. It has to be said its a pretty wonderful sound. It slots snugly right into any tasteful record collection. Then, just as you think you've got a good five minutes more of this the guitars cut abruptly dead and Malkmus has his last word.
'Pull out their plugs and they snort up their drugs
When they pull out their plugs and they snort up their drugs
Their throats are filled with...'
The album finishes mid-sentence.
I imagine PhDs are written on the works of Pavement nowadays. We're living though that kind of age. I'm not saying they're not worthy of it. They're as worthy as anything else. Malkmus produced lots of material commenting on the small but incredibly pervasive world Pavement operated in. Plenty of scope for study for those with the inclination and energy to track his and Pavement's endless false trails and delve through their barrels of red herrings. Like many Rock lyricists (the mighty Lou Reed by his own admission included), he's someone with a certain literary flair who probably couldn't flesh out his talent to produce coherent fiction but is sufficiently well read to produce rock lyrics that critics and target audiences drool over.
“I’m earnest in my unearnestness. I’m not a ‘let’s talk about our feelings’-type person. I talk about feelings but there’s an undercurrent of darkness in the relationships. I just look for that because I like reading stories by John Updike or Richard Yates. I was always attracted to that. There are a lot of unreliable narrators in these songs. It’s not really me, it’s just a person – it’s like some projection of a dark person. Unreliable narrators are more interesting to me. Some of it is just humour, some feeling. Some unreal, some real. There’s no real answer.
Stephen Malkmus, it seems, still doesn’t see music as life and death. He shrugs, “When music comes out it’s like advertising or a magazine to me. It’s not some big work of art, yerkno?”
It's like Pavement. 7/10

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