Bought by Leah for Ben C as part of our Big Christmas Swap
In the early ’90s, Pavement were my band. Their bratty suburban college-kid vibe spoke to me in a way that that grunge nonsense never did; it was scratchy indie rock guarding a heart of pure pop, and I loved it. And even though Stephen Malkmus’ bored, vaguely tuneless delivery could only loosely be described as singing, it still made me swoon in my corduroys.
I’d always thought Slanted and Enchanted was my favorite Pavement album and, originally, I’d sought it out for the Christmas swap. Now, listening again years later, I’m appreciating how Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain cleans up Slanted’s low-fi ramblings and fine-tunes things for the wider audience that the band were seeking. Longtime favorites are the popular single ‘Cut Your Hair’ and the jangly perfection of both ‘Gold Soundz’ and ‘Range Life’; now, I’m finding ‘Cut Your Hair’s’ cheerier cousin ‘Elevate Me Later’ and the simmering ‘Newark Wilder’ are making a deeper impression on me. I’m glad I wasn’t able to find a cheap copy of Slanted and went for this one instead!
Quick anecdote to end on: When Pavement came to my town in ’97, I was too nervous to tag along with the reporter and the photographer (now my husband) from the college paper who went to interview the band. My husband, dear man, took it upon himself to ask Malkmus for his autograph and shortly after presented me with a paper plate that said ‘To lovely Leah, from Stephen Malkmus’. Listening to this album again is a bit like getting that unexpected message, a note from a long time ago, and it’s even sweeter than I remembered.
Swapping albums, even 1¢ albums, with strangers is fraught with danger. What if your swap partner tells you they have sent you one of their favourite albums of all time, and then it arrives and turns out to be by the Stereophonics? What to do then? It’s probably best to change your address and never mention the 1p Album club ever again, after all, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. So imagine my relief when I pulled my 1¢ album out of the padded envelope and it was Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Pavement.
‘Cut your hair’ was one of the first songs I can remember hearing on the Evening Session, and it still sounds magnificent and fresh today. Sounding to me like a harbinger of the pop-punk popular later in the decade (it came out in 1994), in a parallel universe it is the final song of a 90s teen movie, when the mismatched couple have finally embraced plaid, grunge hair, and each other; It is also one of the few songs about the perils of the music industry that is, well, good.
I should confess here that I bought Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain many moons ago, on the strength of ‘Cut Your Hair’ and the reputation for being difficult and experimental, which seemed very cool and daring to a teenager in rural Scotland (Did you know they used to have two drummers, one of whom was much older than the rest of the band, and completely insane. So insane he isn’t on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain). Fortunately, Pavement were never avant-garde enough to let wilfully experimentation get in the way of a great tune; Like everyone, I like the idea of experimental music much more than the reality of actually listening to it.
But then Britpop happened, and Pavement weren’t cool anymore. More recently whilst I’ve occasionally put on Slanted and Enchanted or Wowie Zowie (the last Pavement album I paid attention to), I’m not sure where my old CD of Crooked Rain is these days. So it was a great pleasure to be ‘forced’ to listen to this CD twice for the purposes of 1p Album club. It was like being reunited with a slightly erratic, probably drunk, but thoroughly charming raconteur of an old friend. Stumbling from discordant noise to pop punk, with loads of quiet – loud bits, and songs that sound like they might fall apart at any moment, all shot through with a country twang, somehow they keep it all together.
The experimentation I imagined back in ’94 really seems to be a band trying on (and looking good in) a variety of different styles over the course of 43 minutes, coincidentally the perfect album length. Instrumental ‘5-4=Unity’ so funky it could have been sampled by the mid-90s Beastie Boys. ‘Hit the Plane Down’ sounds so much like a song by The Fall, I imagine I can hear Mark E. Smith on backing vocals. The aforementioned ‘Cut Your Hair’ is indie/pop perfection, whilst ‘Range Life’, the stand out track on the album, is a country song for people who hate country, sounding like the wide-open spaces of America. ‘Range Life’ is weary tale of being lost in the world, where Steven Malkmus (the singer) finds time to bemoan the behaviour of the Smashing Pumpkins on Tour (I’m guessing, and this is going out on a limb, that Billy Corgan was a bit of a dick to him) and diss forgotten grungsters Stone Temple Pilots.
Overall, it was joy to rediscover an album that I know well, but hadn’t listened to for years.