Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)


1. Silence Kit 2. Elevate Me Later 3. Stop Breathin’ 4. Cut Your Hair 5. Newark Wilder 6. Unfair 7. Gold Soundz 8. 5-4=Unity 9. Range Life 10. Heaven Is A Truck 11. Hit The Plane Down 12. Fillmore Jive


Well, wouldja know it? Sometimes a new drummer can make a difference. Spinal Tap knows it, and Pavement knows it. Gone is Gary Young and his wacky onstage antics, and with him go much of the goofy bullshit that occasionally made Slanted drag ever so slightly. Thus, enter new drummer Steve West and another batch of stellar slacker pop songs, played with greater authority and sonic deftness than the last time around. And also more, uh… mellowness. Yes, Crooked Rain x2 is slower, but it’s also far more consistent. See, this is where the band develops that vintage Pavement sound we all know and love – intertwining, arpeggiated guitars, pretty vocal melodies, tons o’ hooks, with a still-sturdy supply of jivin’ rockers. What more could you want?

Don’t ask me, cuz I dunno. I can tell you what you’ll get, and among the most notable of those things is “Cut Your Hair.” If you’re over 30, you’ll probably remember it (along with the Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly”) as “THE alternative rock hit of 1994!” (say this phrase in a clichéd DJ voice for the full effect). If you are male, and closer to my age, you know it as the song they ripped off to create the theme song of ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption, aka “Interracial Bald Guys Yell at Each Other About Sports.” Me, I think it’s just about the definitive Pavement single. It’s got all their trademarks – a strong melody with a supercatchy hook (“Hoo-ooo-ooo-ooo-hoo-oo!”), an awesome synchronized guitar break, a touch of goofiness (“no BIG HAIR!”) and Malkmus’ snot-nosed voice delivering highly self-aware lyrics. That’s just about everything that makes great Pavement songs great, and done about as good as they could manage. Now, there are some revisionist historians (ahhh, those MOTHERFUCKERS! They used the same picture as I did for my introductory page!) who’d like to claim that “Gold Soundz” is in fact The Pavement Song To End All Pavement Songs, and I can’t say I agree completely. It’s a terrific song among terrific songs, no doubt, but of the more upbeat moments on this record, I can think of at least two songs, in addition to “Cut Your Hair,” that I like better. There’s the album’s rockingest moment, “Unfair,” a punk-spirited attack on the L.A. lifestyle. I guess every Californian musician ever has written a song about shallowness and superficiality in Hollywood, but unlike all those people, Malkmus really, truly sounds like he could give a fuck about the town. Besides, I don’t recall anyone else ever coming up with lines as hilarious as “Walk with your credit card in the air! Swing your nachos like you just don’t care!” Hehe. The album’s other primo “rocker” (relative term) is the mislabeled “Silence Kit” (it’s supposed to be “Silent Kid,” methinks. The engineer’s intern must’ve been short on coffee the day they slapped labels on the master tapes). It makes it clear right from the get go that these guys are gonna put a lot more care into guitar texture and overdubs on this album (this is a great guitar album. That Malkmus is actually a hell of an axe man). They spend over a minute building the song up before the vocal melody comes in, and then after seemingly only a few fleeting, wonderfully melodic moments it abruptly shifts to the jarring final section… and then it’s over! Leave ‘em wanting more, I suppose.

And hey! Spiral Stairs gets his first songwriting credit! Is he brilliant like his buddy? No; “Hit The Plane Down” is the worst song on the album. But he’d improve.

Aw, hell, this thing is pretty mellow, huh? But in a chilled out, super melodic, with lots of guitars way rather than a boring way. “Heaven Is A Truck?” Yeah, more like “Heaven Is ‘Heaven Is A Truck!’” (not really. Heaven is the back of a car with Natalie Portman, and don’t let any goddamn holy book tell you different). “Stop Breathin?’” More like “Please Keep Playing Those Arpeggios Until You Stop Breathin!’” And holy fucking shit, “Range Life” rules. It’s country-tinged! And it revealed that Billy Corgan is such a conceited ass that he pulled the Smashing Pumpkins out of a festival that both they and Pavement were scheduled to play because he decided that one part of the lyrics insinuated that he wasn’t the most brilliant genius to ever play music! Ugh. Another reason to call it my favorite Pavement song. “Fillmore Jive” is another winner – Pavement’s version of a “jam” with some unexpectedly emotional chord changes. Man, even the instrumental on this album, “5-4=Unity,” is pretty cool as it veers oddly from walkin’ jazz piano to a near-quote of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Good stuff.

Crooked Rain is Pavement at both their most focused and most melodic, and with virtually no extraneous fuckery. Just a great band playing great songs. Don’t miss it.

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