Pavement – Terror Twilight

Terror Twilight (1999)


1. Spit On A Stranger 2. Folk Jam 3. You Are A Light 4. Cream Of Gold 5. Major Leagues 6. Platform Blues 7. Ann Don’t Cry 8. Billie 9. Speak, See, Remember 10. The Hexx 11. Carrot Rope


Fucking Nigel Godrich. The man who directed Radiohead in their successful campaign to take the rock out of rock ‘n roll. And the roll, for that matter – that is, they would have, if the Eagles hadn’t already taken care of it so many years before. I’ve just about had it with Radiohead being designated as this unassailable, Beatles-level entity, and I’m trying to figure out how much of my ire can be directed at their supposed producer extraordinaire. See, the thing about Radiohead albums is that they’re BORING AS SHIT. I never, ever get the slightest urge to listen to Radiohead, but when for some reason I do, my reaction is pretty much always the same: “Hmmm… this sounds pretty cool, but why does everyone sound like they just took several hits of valium and are about to fall asleep?” Everyone always says, “their music is so beautiful,” or, “they capture my emotions so well,” or, “I have to pee right now, I’ll get back to writing this review in about 25 seconds” (25 seconds pass)… but do they rock? No! No, they do not rock! They’re BORING AS SHIT. And they’re like a million billion people’s favorite band! But here’s the kicker: I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of Thom Yorke and all the other people in the band whose names I don’t know, because based on much of The Bends, they can write a pretty darn good rock song when they feel like it. So whose fault is it?

Based on Pavement’s final album, Terror Twilight, and basically nothing else, I’m gonna go ahead and nominate Nigel Godrich. I’ve never had anywhere near the kind of affection for this record, on which Godrich served as producer, that I have for the other Pavement albums. As such, I was sure I was going to give it a B or a B-, but a few recent listens have convinced me that Malkmus’ songs are as incredible as ever and thus I can’t with a good conscience rate any lower than a B+, even when there will be only very rare occasions during the remainder of my life when I’ll want to listen to the entire thing. That’s because Godrich does his best to make it BORING AS SHIT like a Radiohead album. Twilight certainly sounds more worked over and, uh, produced than all the previous Pavement albums combined, and for better or worse, excises the band from their signature charming amateurism. But for a band that was pretty slow and relaxed already, they could barely afford the sapping of energy and life that Godrich applies here.

I don’t know what it is, but his production always seems to emphasize the languid and dull and discourage the kinetic and dynamic. Sure, I can name specific things about the production that bug me. I hate what he did with “Cream Of Gold,” for instance. The song is supposed to be a heavy, dark, driving rocker, so Malkmus goes for some tasty 70’s-style distortion, but Godrich negates it by turning the guitars into echoey, waiflike annoyances floating around harmlessly above the mix, thus decimating what chance the song had of actually rocking convincingly. Because, again, the guy does not know how to rock. And that’s really the big issue here, because everyone involved just sounds really tired and lethargically pensive. This hurts the intermittent jammy instrumental sections, which I guess are mostly contained to the confines of the rambling “Platform Blues.” Really, there’s only one song that rekindles the goofy Pavement verve of old, and that’s “Carrot Rope,” which I think is supposed to sound like a preteen Neil Diamond with hilarious squelching wah-wah noises. They stick it right at the end to keep it from disrupting the running order because it’s pretty much the only song here with very much spirit or a sense of humor. I fucking love that stupid little song.

Thus, it’s a good goddamn thing that this is such a tour de force for Mr. SM. People always say this sounds like a Malkmus solo album, and I’ll concur. Not because it actually sounds much like any of his actual solo albums, but because the rest of the band often sound like glorified session men, contributing minimal input or personality, and seeming like they’re simply along for the ride as Malkmus expands and perfects his songwriting craft and Godrich weilds his boring-ass sonic landscape. But Malkmus really is putting a lot of effort into his songs here. “Spit On A Stranger,” for instance, which is just aces. Poptones. A perfect pop song. Slow, but only because it wants to be. The first half of “You Are A Light” is nearly as heart-stoppingly beautiful, and I wouldn’t kick the whole thing out of bed just because it turns into weird circus music after a couple of minutes. Those two and the also beautiful and melodic (a recurring theme) “Major Leagues” are the most traditionally Pavement-y songs here; otherwise, Steve is branching out just a bit throughout. I especially like “Speak, See, Remember,” which starts out like a sorta jazzy shuffle and then turns into a catchy pop rocker with a legitimately crunchy guitar tone! Musta found a way to sneak that one past old Nigel. I guess the other songs are, uh… slow pop songs and ballads. They’re all good, just… slow.

Terror Twilight proves nothing if not that a grasp on melody writing as strong as Malkmus’ can overcome a lot of deficiencies. Such as a producer who wants to make everything BORING AS SHIT. If this had to be the end for Pavement, I wish they could’ve at least gone about it in the way they used to. But I guess they just couldn’t do it that way anymore – or do it together at all.

One Comment

  1. Emily wrote:

    I hate Radiohead.

    But I think I like Pavement.

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