Tuesday, 17 July 2007



The third full album from Pavement is easily their best. It is a truly expansive effort covering many bases and ticking several boxes. I know people that wrote this off as country rock but is a very feeble and glib description, one the individual later subsequently ate in a word sandwich.

This is one of the most versatile and durable records of the grunge-era. Most would say that by the time this album came out the alternative nation had long since died and returned underground but unlike those who fell Pavement stayed in the game longer than most.

A deceptively intricate album, Wowee Zowee is eighteen tracks of blissed out weird that I always pretty coherent until the day that I listened to it in the changed context of over the office stereo at the studio Trevor Horn owns (Sarm) and suddenly it sounded like the weirdest thing ever held up against such generic pop music. For some reason that stereo made the record sound like the strangest set/collection of songs in history, playing out like somebody’s decent into madness. This served as a timely reminder of how goofy and oddball the most celebrated of music tastes in my life could and would be viewed by a bland white outsider. Ultimately though this shouldn’t have been too much of a shock to the system after reading an account by Paul Morley of the time he suggested The Fall to Horn for ZTT.

Staring out with “We Dance” it is immediately obvious that Malkmus is confident that he is on to something. The loser mentality of the lyrics come as a celebration of the rejected odd and as the words touch many nerves of the listener the lyrics find themselves naturally imprinted on the psyche and the scene is set.

Rattled By The Rush” echoes a similar selection of sentiments with a slacker mentality and summertime breeze, which cripples the listener, dragging them away from tidying their room and combing their hair. Filled with resignation and some wonderful rhyming schemes this is perhaps the only song to ever effectively and efficiently employ a car horn as a key central instrument.

Track three “Black Out” establishes the seasonal feel of the record with the opening declaration of “Sunday drive….” and suddenly you begin to question the age of the author, considering premature dementia. Fortunately though as the song takes off it leaves the ground and never comes back.

With the mantra of “We’ve got the money” Pavement almost appear to be setting out to offend with “Brinx Job” as a smug sarcastic tone of wealth rears itself as a aural smile. With its rubberband jibes the hopefully faux (and not faux pas) mockery makes the song feel like the song equivalent of The Idiots.

“Grounded” is the first truly great song on Wowee Zowee. As delicate teardrop guitar licks open the song a Wintery and Christmas atmosphere is born from the opening lines of “doctors leaving for the holiday season, got crystal ice picks, no gift for the gab”, whatever that actually means. The song eventually builds to breaking point at which time the wash of guitars comes over drowns the audience in the most drenching manner. This marks the album’s true arrival.

An incendiary agenda next takes over as an angry rant against the industry caked in vicious distortion rallies in the two odd minutes of “Serpentine Pad” that literally rips through any possible lethargy on the part of the listener.

Generally considered the finest track on the album “Father To A Sister Of Thought” is indeed an emotive swoon that plays on elements of horse riding subtly in the wild western. This was the record that once soundtracked my worst car accident/incident but that is another story for another time.

Closing side A comes “Extradition” which is a question mess of a song that purposely falls apart halfway through as an invisible set of credits trickle down a non-existent screen in the hot and stuffy hotel room of some seedy Asian control. When the song resumes it sounds like the aftermath of bad sex and an argument.

In a contrary manner side B opens a frenzied attacked in the form of “Best Friends Arm” and (sordid) sentiments that could be taken (mistaken) for affection. It is perhaps as loose as the album gets and capped with a trademark Pavement break.

The words “come on in” resound as “Grave Architecture” takes to the podium in the jerkiest of manner. This is the track on the album that most resembles an epileptic fit and the sound of a band struggling to get out just what is on its mind. The frustration is tangible. You suspect that this is Prince Charles’ favourite track on the record.

“At & T” opens deceptively calmly until some crazed maniac (Spiral!) begins playing a line that appears to send Malkmus into swings of insania and it would appear a very accusatory frame. As he talks of room service and ends with the mantra of “whatever” you can’t quite fathom what kind of person is being addressed with this tome. By the end he is screaming and not for joy it would seem.

Bouncing ball near hardcore becomes the subject of the day with “Flux = Rad” as its frenzied attack on the senses experiences crazed drumming akin to Animal from The Muppets and a busted up guitar sound as impressive as the most overloaded four track while the lyrical content is the stuff of a true control freak.

In stark contrast “Fight This Generation” immediately follows in a much less passive aggressive and more submissive almost depressed tone that facially urges the listener to accept their lot while also rejecting all that is buying sold by the maniacs in control. The message to “fight this generation” then “fuck this generation” is not a nod to nihilism more a warning to be suspicious of those making a buck off the back of our bowel movements. In a way this could even be aimed at Douglas Coupland and all those chancers that were found cashing in on our misery during the final decade of the 20th century.

Thankfully the mood returns to something somewhat more upbeat as “Kennel District” offers some kind of fuzzy optimism despite asking the question “what didn’t I ask?” on our collective behalf. This feels like a love song even if it isn’t one. A wounded aftermath ensues like a burnt day at the beach.

As things begin to head towards an end and climax the record slows down to its most subdued as delicate chimes dominate proceedings with Malkmus holding court and sending out an apparent warning of stifling elements that will ultimately serve to undo. The song plays out like a firework display as it dies down before sporadically exploding and building to the heartiest of conclusions.

The drunk sounding six minute opus of “Half A Canyon” is the finale of Wowee Zowee as it encompasses all the prime aspects of what has just come before it, playing out like an overture of “Pavement: The Musical”. As the direction swings and changes halfway through the band begins to growl as the threatened epic horror ending occurs and the screams are to be taken literally and once through on the other side there will be slacker blood.

Coherence rains as once more pretend closing credits accompany the rather jointed pop effort of “Western Homes” that sits at track 18 with its acknowledgement that times have a changed (not necessarily for the best).

There is not a more solid collection of eighteen songs in the history of music. The alternative rock era never managed to spew out and make a more era defining statement in such a vague manner. If you do not own this album you do not like music.

Thesaurus moment: wonky.

Big Cat

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