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No Big Hair!

 

Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins

Matador, 1994/2004

Rating: 4.5

 

 

Posted: October 28, 2004

By Laurence Station

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain encapsulates the giddy possibility of stardom with the crushing reality that Pavement will never compromise its sound to attain such fame. There's a convulsive excitement underlying its 12 tracks, like confronting a group of smartass kids in on a joke no one else gets. There's also reactionary fear evident in the one-sided name-calling of Smashing Pumpkins and the pissy "elegant bachelors" snipe at Stone Temple Pilots tacked on to the end of "Range Life." There's the near-hit, anti-image pop-craft nugget "Cut Your Hair" and an irresistibly catchy ode to self-loathing and misery-loves-company bliss, "Gold Soundz." Crooked Rain is Pavement at its most confounding. The album is a celebration of the sound of '70s classic rock and yet recoils against the excesses that defined the lifestyle. Pavement critiques the current rock scene with academic detachment ("It's a brand new era / But it came too late") while trotting out fake jazz toss-offs ("5-4 = Unity").

Now, like Slanted & Enchanted two years earlier, Crooked Rain gets the royal treatment with a tenth-anniversary reissue that pulls together scads of bonus material. Where the bountiful extras on Slanted bolstered and built upon the official album tracks, Crooked Rain's primary offering is a glimpse at early versions of songs recorded with original drummer Gary Young at his Louder Than You Think studio in Stockton, CA. (Crooked Rain was finished in New York by core duo Stephen Malkmus and Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg and new members, drummer Steve West, bassist Mark Ibold and second drummer/frenetic cheerleader Bob Nastanovich.) The first disc features the remastered Crooked Rain set, several B-Sides (highlighted by the backslider groove of "Coolin' by Sound" and elegant regret of "Strings of Nashville") and a pair of stray tracks from various compilations (one of which, the wonderfully absurd R.E.M. tribute "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence," is Pavement at its most inspired). While not as solid as Slanted's similarly structured playlist, Crooked Rain Deluxe still offers a formidable listening experience -- not to mention a tidy way to hear a diverse range of material.

It's on the second disc that the reissued Crooked Rain stumbles. Slanted's back end kicked off with the excellent Watery, Domestic EP, followed by a selection of choice rare tracks, a second John Peel Session, and a full 1992 Brixton Academy concert. Crooked Rain commits the first 21 of its 25 tracks to work-in-progress demos, several of which wouldn't find a home until Wowee Zowee, the band's third album (if Matador follows its current yen for Pavement anniversaries, look for that gold-embossed tribute sometime next year). And it's simply too ragged and ill-formed (offering different lyrics and sloppy execution) to merit more than a die-hard fan's appreciation.

Which is probably the point. But compared to the well-stocked Slanted reissue, it falls woefully short. Of the songs that didn't evolve to final track-list status, "All My Friends" sports the most potential, with lead singer/songwriter Malkmus finding his voice (an odd mixture of indolence and apprehension) and moving away from the noncommittal Lou Reed-esque delivery that predominated on Slanted. A saving grace, of sorts, comes courtesy of the recently departed John Peel and a 4-song session that aired in early 1994. Highlights include the loose, fun "Brink of the Clouds" and the crunchy Spiral Stairs offering "Tartar Martyr."

Crooked Rain lacks the brilliant, slapdash spontaneity of Slanted and Enchanted and doesn't attain the dizzying heights of self-indulgent weirdness that Wowee Zowee managed. But it possesses a consistency of flow that probably had a lot to do with the chemistry of an emerging band that hadn't grown sick of one another yet. There's a airy buoyancy evident here not found on any other Pavement release. And though this deluxe reissue falls short of its predecessor, the original Crooked Rain remains the band's best album.

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 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
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