Billy Corgan, America’s most defensive musician, once opined that nobody wakes up humming a Pavement song. This was in response to Pavement’s “Range Life,” wherein Pavement singer Stephen Malkmus says he “could really give a fuck” about The Smashing Pumpkins. Oh, and according to Wikipedia (they’re citing a biography of Pavement), Corgan threatened to yank Smashing Pumpkins from the headlining slot of Lollapalooza 1994 if Pavement was allowed to play. So Corgan has always been a good sport with a great sense of humor.
But enough about Billy Corgan – not just in this post, but in general. Enough about him. Let’s talk about Pavement, specifically Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. I have this habit with books, movies, and music where I take stock of shit that I’ve listened to/read/seen, and try to fill in the gaps, i.e., I look at so-called “important” albums/books/films and try to judge them for myself. This yields terrific results sometimes (like with Citizen Kane – that movie is really fucking good) and horrific results other times (like with Lawrence of Arabia; it’s all right, I suppose, but it could be an hour and a half shorter and seeing Alec Guinness in olive-face to be an Arabian prince is really embarrassing), especially when it comes to music. Just the other day, I was checking out Black Flag and Minor Threat because they’re kinda important bands and I’ve never listened to them before. Let me tell you, if you’ve had a bad day, you can satisfactorily remedy it with Black Flag’s Damaged or Minor Threat’s Complete Discography.
So that’s how I found Pavement. A couple years ago, I was trying to satisfy my musical desires with an emusic account (an endeavor that ended in mega-frustration because I want a download service that lets me get whatever I want and Emusic wants to suggest shitty alternatives to bands I like) so I was trying to think of important bands I might’ve missed somewhere along the line. Behold, y’all, I found Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, one of the nicest slices of 90’s rock there is, though I’m pretty sure none of its stellar tunes made it on VH1’s 100 Best Songs of the 1990s. This could be an administrative oversight or (more likely) it could be VH1 actually knows fuckall about great music.
The album opens with the “Silence Kit,” which contains a line that is either “don’t take your grandmother’s advice about us” (I just looked that up) or “don’t take your grandmother’s advice about Usher” – it’s hard to tell and I prefer the latter interpretation because I like the idea that the world is populated with grandmothers who have lots of advice regarding Usher. Listen to the song and decide for yourself. But, either way, “Silence Kit” lets you know what you’re in for on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: loose and melodic guitar lines and catchy vocal melodies galore.
Oh, and an instrumental that is allegedly a tribute to Dave Brubeck. That’s what I like about this album, though – these guys were (and are) clearly capable musicians, despite being labeled as “slacker rock”, who could create catchy tunes that sounded a lot more effortless than they probably were.
And the lyrics are pretty good too. On “Elevate Me Later,” Malkmus sings, “I’d like to check out your public protest/ why you complaining?” and then later mentions that there’s “40 different shades of black”. “Stop Breathin'” features the line, “Write it on a postcard: ‘Dad, they broke me'” and of course, there’s “Range Life,” where he sings of Corgan’s band “I don’t understand what they mean/ and I could really give a fuck.” Apparently, that’s all it takes to get BC mad enough to risk disappointing thousands of his fans (as if his last few albums haven’t done that already – zing!). Although, lyrically, “Unfair,” might be my favorite song on the album because of this series of lines: “We got the hills of Beverly/ let’s burn the hills of Beverly/ Walk! with your credit card in the air/ swing it round just like you just don’t care/ this is the slow, sick sucking part of me”. For someone like me, there’s a lot to like about all of that.
I liked Crooked Rain a lot the first time I heard it and I only enjoy it more every time I listen to it. At the end of the day, that’s the criteria for any album to be considered one of the best released in my lifetime: how often do I really listen to it? Do I wake up wanting to listen to it? The reason London Calling is my favorite album ever is because I don’t pass a week without listening to it. That’s why some people might be irked by what’s absent from my list at the end of the year – there are a lot of “great” albums that came out in my lifetime that I never listen to (like Let It Be by The Replacements – it’s a good album, but I hardly ever listen to it). Since talking about the best anything is purely subjective to start with, I want to at least do people the favor of hyping albums that I really listen to; albums that form the soundtrack to my life, in a sense. I get songs from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain stuck in my head all the time (I guess that makes me nobody to a certain pretentious asshole Who Shall Remain Nameless), and I have days where I just want to listen to that album one or two times, and that ranks it pretty highly in my personal pantheon of awesome albums.