Pavement – Wowee Zowee

Wowee Zowee (1995)

A+

1. We Dance 2. Rattled By The Rush 3. Black Out 4. Brinx Job 5. Grounded 6. Serpentine Pad 7. Motion Suggests 8. Father To A Sister Of Thought 9. Extradition 10. Best Friend’s Arm 11. Grave Architecture 12. AT & T 13. Flux=Rad 14. Fight This Generation 15. Kennel District 16. Pueblo 17. Half A Canyon 18. Western Homes

 

Imagine Pavement’s career as one huge metaphorical bong hit. If Slanted And Enchanted is the initial fit of stoned laughter, and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is the point at which the senses peaked and chillaxed nirvana was achieved, then Wowee Zowee is the aftermath; the moment, hours later, when, barely able to move, it begins to dawn on you that you may have smoked a little too much, as uncertainty and muted anxiousness begin to creep into your every thought. Nearly everything about Wowee feels just a bit off-kilter, a bit un-centered, but all across its 18-track, 56-minute sprawl, Pavement remain tremendously melodic and come up with some kind of pedestal-worthy achievement in slackerdom.

OK, to start off, if you thought Crooked Rain was slow, wait ‘til you hear this one. Many of these songs are based off the same clean guitar arpeggios, occasional bursts of distortion and pretty melodies that defined Crooked Rain, but the “rockers” along the lines of “Silence Kit” or “Cut Your Hair” are few and far between. In fact, the only Malkmus song here that really sounds anything like either of those is “Rattled By The Rush,” this band’s version of tough blues-rock workout with a harmonica that turns into an impressive guitar jam for its entire second half. There’s also Spiral Stairs’ bass and organ-driven “Kennel District,” which is perhaps the album’s most pleasure-sensor-prodding, upbeat moment and cements Kanneberg’s place as a worthy second banana. Otherwise, there’s a cold, quavering, vulnerable beauty to a lot of these songs. At times, the band seems so catatonically stoned that they approach sounding forlorn (“Fight This Generation”). But they aren’t really letting us in, even if they sound like they might be trying to fool us into thinking this is their emotional, “confessional” album. Like, the first thing you hear on this album is an acoustic guitar slowly strumming an E minor chord and some piano and you’re like, “hey, this sounds like some singer-songwriter shit! I can’t wait to hear Steve tell us all about his feelings like he was James Taylor singing about how much he misses his hair!” Then the first words you hear are, “There is no castration fear,” and you’re like “what the fuck?” as you glance down at your balls just to make sure that they really haven’t been sliced off without you noticing. “We Dance” goes on to combine perhaps the stateliest-sounding music Malkmus has ever written with some of his most obnoxiously obscurest lyrics. I wouldn’t blame you if it makes you start wondering just what the fuck they’re trying to pull.

Hell, I’m still not sure myself, but for all its scattershot eclecticism, Wowee somehow manages to hang together like all classic double albums do – so coherently that I couldn’t imagine removing a note without dramatically altering the album’s flow. The band tries going in a lot of different directions here, but less in an ambitious, overflowing-with-creativity way than a “we got stoned and started fucking about in the studio and this came out” kind of way. Yes, this album contains a significant number of well-thought out, expertly constructed songs, several of which happen to be some of the most beautiful guitar music I’ve ever heard. “Grounded,” a Crooked Rain leftover, builds up to a stunningly majestic peak, and demonstrates once again the near-telekinetic connection Malkmus and Kanneberg seemed to have when playing complimenting arpeggiated guitar parts. “Black Out” is just over two minutes of mellow, melodic perfection, and “Father To A Sister Of Thought” is an absolutely gorgeous, haunting country song, complete with pedal steel.

There are other examples. But for some, it may seem as though the relative toss-offs tend to dominate the record – yes, the goofy interlude tracks, along the lines of those I failed to defend in my review of Slanted, have returned. But to that, I say this: if those are toss-offs, then they’re the catchiest fucking toss-offs I’ve ever heard. Sure, on first listen, stuff like “Serpentine Pad” and “Flux=Rad” may seem like completely unserious parodies of punk rock songs, but 1) they inject the album with some much-needed up-tempo drive and 2) listen to them! They’re catchy as hell! Excepting maybe “Brinx Job,” which I’ll admit is kind of stupid, there’s not one second of music on this album that I feel doesn’t belong… it’s all one song. One stoned, groovy, beautiful song. Wowee, indeed.



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