Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
"Real crazy guys aren’t geniuses. It takes too much organization to make great art” -- Wayne Coyne
Somewhere between the long nights that he spent as a security guard at The Whitney Museum in New York and the time he sang those immortal lines about “electricity and lust”, Stephen Malkmus was branded as a slacker. As if he were some pied piper, ready to lead the jaded, middle-class youth of the day to a place where they could you know, like, hang out, listen to Singles Going Steady, and let their jeans fade to the brink of disintegration. It was something I never understood about the media’s perception of Malkmus, and Pavement as well. Without Malkmus’ venerable sneer, co-founder/guitarist Scott Kannberg’s tattered t-shirts and Bermuda shorts, and the wall of white noise that surrounds the music, a song like “Perfect Depth” is as crafted and elegant as anything by The Beach Boys or The Zombies in their respective heydays. Which brings me back to that Wayne Coyne quote. No one could ever, ever make a record as brilliant as Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain on a whim, yet Pavement came as close to convincing us of that than anyone ever will.
“Rock” music was in a pretty weird place in February of 1994. I say “rock” in parenthesis because that “rock” was unlike any other “rock” that proceeded it. It wasn’t about Sebastian Bach or Vince Neil wearing spandex so tight that you could see their internal organs through it. It wasn’t about big solos or 83-piece drum sets, or whores, or coke. It was about garages, and flannel, and noise, and being lost. It wasn’t about L.A., it was about nowhere, and about nobody. The King of Pop had just three years prior been usurped by the new breed of these nobodies from nowhere, and nothing would really ever be the same (or so it seemed until about 1999). Amid this confusion Pavement recorded a powerful musical statement that damn near summed it all up, and at the same time, united the new “rock” with the old, old “rock”, filtered through the head of an erudite history major with a penchant for cheap distortion and AM radio.
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is the clash of two wholly different coming of age stories. One of a band coming to grips with early success (and the confusion that surrounds it), the other of five guys in their early twenties trying to make sense of the post-academic world that they were thrust into. And what a world it is. Album opener “Silent Kit” (or “Kid” depending on which format you own), finds Malkmus jacking-off before a gig, impervious of the expectations placed upon him. In “Unfair”, he takes a directionless walk around Southern California. In “Cut Your Hair”, jabs are thrown at the music industry that was, at the time, raping the underground that Pavement held so dear. In the jangly “Gold Soundz”, he stumbles around, “drunk in the August sun”. The latter is a beautiful song, and although it seems as though Malkmus is merely playing word games (“I keep my address to myself/cuz it’s secret-cret-cret-cret-cret”), he really makes more of a cohesive statement about the comfort of solidarity than any of the indistinguishable bands that were scoring big at the time.
Outward appearances can be deceiving, however. Despite the freewheeling attitude of some of the album’s tracks, a cloud of uncertainty hangs above the proceedings, a cloud that contains “forty different shades of black”. From the “brand new era” that “came too late” in the lackadaisical “Newark Wilder”, to “the ammunition” that “never rests” in the tennis saga “Stop Breathing”, it’s clear that Malkmus is being confronted with some heady (and bewildering) stuff.
But don‘t be deceived. Crooked Rain is far from being Malkmus’ show. It’s here that the classic Pavement line-up of Malkmus, Kannberg, bassist Mark Ibold, and percussionists Steve West and Bob Nastanovich made its debut, cementing their status as one of the most cohesively ragged ensembles in indie rock history. Great chemistry can be heard throughout the disc (check Ibold’s work on “Range Life”), but it’s on album closer “Fillmore Jive” that it all shines through. Backed by a wall of swirling white-noise, Malkmus looks to the future and bids “goodnight to the rock and all era”. Finally, in his most devilish moment, he drops a pitted cherry on top of the proceedings by ending the album with an incomplete sentence. It all goes to show you that music is only what you make it. No word that Malkmus could ever throw in their would make more sense than the one that you do in your head.
The years following Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, would find Pavement recording one of the best ‘fuck you’ records of all time (1995’s Wowee Zowee, the album that showed the big-wigs that the band wasn’t about to compromise its sound) before becoming hipster/yuppie savants (1997’s Brighten The Corners) and, finally, content, windblown hippies (on their 1999 swan song Terror Twilight). But in the end, none of those records, as great as they were, held a candle to Crooked Rain. Probably because they didn’t need to. Crooked Rain is almost more of a Double Nickels On The Dime-type time capsule than it is a normal album in the way that say, Icky Mettle is. It’s a polaroid, etched in vinyl, showing how one guy dealt with growing up in an age that was supposedly made for him, and how he discovered that life is only what you make it to be. Then again, it always helps to have that AM radio.
By: Colin McElligatt
Published on: 2003-09-01