Pavement – Brighten The Corners

Brighten The Corners (1997)


1. Stereo 2. Shady Lane/J Vs. S 3. Transport Is Arranged 4. Date With IKEA 5. Old To Begin 6. Type Slowly 7. Embassy Row 8. Blue Hawaiian 9. We Are Underused 10. Passat Dream 11. Starlings Of The Slipstream 12. Fin


The upward trend comes to an end. It had to eventually, and since this is yet another really freaking good alternative pop/rock/whatever album, it would be unfair of me to knock it on its own merits. But coming on the heels of the big sploogerific blowout slackerfest that was Wowee Zowee, Brighten The Corners is ultimately Just Another Batch O’ Pavement Songs. And no matter how good those songs may be—and many of them are more than up to the standard this band had set—there’s a sense of purpose that has gone missing. Without that, we’re left with just the songs, nakedly presented, and the effect is a bit like the first stages of a balloon slowly deflating.

Aw, man, I feel bad being critical of this album, since in many ways it delivers on providing the high quota of Pavement-y goodness that was expected of them by this time. But that’s precisely the point. It’s just sort of… product. Great product, but product nonetheless. There’s plenty more slow, pretty guitar songs with beautiful vocal melodies, but they might be just slightest bit slower, and the slightest bit less pretty, than the last time around, and even if they’re not, these guys aren’t doing anything new with the formula. The explorative feel of Wowee is gone, as if the band has made a concerted effort to just cut some tracks within their comfort zone. This is all well-trodden ground for Pavement, no question.

Fortunately, the ground that Pavement once trod is far more fertile than that of most bands, and they trod upon it hard (?!??) on Brighten The Corners, so the criticisms I’ve just outlined are basically irrelevant to my or your enjoyment of the album. In fact, I’d say my enjoyment of Corners might even blasphemously exceed my enjoyment of Slanted And Enchanted. “Just Another Pavement Album” is still a Pavement album, after all. Which is a good thing. Besides, it’s not totally regressive. They’ve cut out the goof songs again, and I sense a concerted effort to bring more of the RAWK here, perhaps as a reaction to the lazybones Wowee Zowee. There’s a couple more hot rockers than usual, and even though most of the songs are still of the slow and pretty variety, they often break into bombastic guitar orgy sections (“We Are Underused”). The album also has a lyrical personality distinct from the other Pavement albums – it seems Steve is making an effort to be self-consciously wacky more than just opaque (I’ll quote the line that everybody else does because it’s hilarious: “What about the voice of Geddy Lee/How did it get so high?/I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy!”). I guess it was his way of entertaining himself while his commitment to the band was beginning to fade.

The album kicks off with the best one-two punch of any Pavement album, so there’s that. The bouncy goodtime bass-driven “Stereo” is full of all kinds of fun squeaky guitar sounds, and the chorus totally rocks hard with a crunch and energy you probably didn’t think Pavement were capable of. Up next is “Shady Lane,” a quintessential Pavement single right up there with “Summer Babe” and “Cut Your Hair,” and further proof that it was a sad day indeed when somebody decided that making two and a half minute singles wasn’t the best idea ever. Screw whoever that somebody happened to have been. The rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to that initial promise, although I feel compelled to give mad props to Spiral Stairs’ “Date With IKEA,” which is like your favorite Byrds song pumped up on some serious garage rock muscle. Brilliant! Good thing Malkmus decided he no longer wanted to put any of Scott’s songs on their albums after this one! Way to foster band unity there, Steve-O!

But really, it’s a good thing they managed to come up with a good amount of great melodies here, because they are starting to sound a bit old and slow when they’re not playing faster rockers. I don’t think that’s necessarily all bad, though. Sure, the sluggishness results in the first 100% useless moments in the Pavement catalog (the gaseous ball of nothing called “Blue Hawaiian,” the formless first half of “Embassy Row,” which fortunately turns into a jivin’ little ass dumpling for its second half). Songs with chord changes as soft and sentimental-sounding as “Starlings Of The Slipstream” or “Fin” might’ve sounded weird coming from these masters of snot-nosed irony in 1994, but here, they fit, and they’re beautiful songs. Take Corners as Pavement approaching maturity. But keep in mind that perhaps this band wasn’t built to last very long beyond irreverent adolescence.

P.S. I’m under strict orders from the grammar police to inform you that this is only Pavement album that does not feature either alliteration or repetition in its title! How exciting.

One Comment

  1. Emily wrote:

    What the hell is an ass dumpling?

    Regardless of the answer to that – good review!

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