For many, Pavement are the quintessential indie group of the 1990s: always on the fringes, feeding off of the mainstream, occasionally protruding into it but too clever and obscure to ever be co-opted by it. They never quite fit in with the dorky student vibe, appearing wearing American football shirts in many of their press shots. Their five albums, spanning from 1992 to 1999, are up there with the likes of Bowie and The Stooges in terms of each one illuminating a different aspect of the group’s music, together making up a consistently brilliant discography.
Pavement’s second album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, released in February 1994, is the moment that they started to be taken seriously outside of indie circles. Its lead single ‘Cut Your Hair’ remains their biggest-selling single (though we’re hardly talking a lot of copies), getting exposure on the radio and regular rotation on MTV. CR,CR’s predecessor Slanted And Enchanted (1992), though equally beloved, was rather fuzzy and ramshackle, but this collection is a lot more focussed and professional by comparison.
The group’s erratic original drummer Gary Young had been replaced by the more reliable Steve West prior to its recording, which partially explains this. But the record’s restless creativity spoke to hundreds of bored, suburban teenagers desperate to relate to something strange and unique compared to the uniform sprawl of their surroundings.
The key to CR,CR’s brilliance lies in the way that it flits effortlessly between moods and styles. Lead singer Stephen Malkmus’ idiosyncratic lyrical and vocal style is given a richer melodic platform by the rest of his group. ‘Stop Breathin’’ is a basic, keening indie ballad that sounds charming and queasy due to the string bends of guitarist Spiral Stairs (Scott Kannberg), and this runs perfectly into ‘Cut Your Hair’. The meditative stoner-rock of ‘Newark Wilder’ segues into the grungier ‘Unfair’; the simplistic two-note riff of ‘Hit The Plane Down’ sits next to the improvised jam session of ‘Fillmore Jive’. The amusing jazz send-up of ‘5-4=Unity’ is sandwiched between two of Pavement’s best ever songs, the jaw-dropping jingle-jangle of ‘Gold Soundz’ and the countrified indie anthem ‘Range Life’. Malkmus’ voice strains at the top end of his vocal range on both, but this seeming amateurishness comes off as charming because of the whole record’s ‘live in the studio’ feel.
CR,CR sounds like a series of twelve first takes, all the more amazing because of the relatively primitive recording equipment available to them at the time, an example of excellence on a budget. I could go on, since every single track on this album is both a winner in its own right and in the context of the whole. But I might start blubbering at the memories. Sniff.
Pavement appeared on the annual touring festival Lollapalooza the following year, promoting the sprawling follow-up Wowee Zowee (1995). But the sound of that record and the tour itself was a reflexive lash-out at the spotlight that the group had attracted as a result of CR,CR. The excellent documentary DVD Slow Century documents the hostile reaction Pavement drew during those appearances because of their incoherent, alcohol-fuelled jams.
Their recorded output from that point on continued to garner plenty of critical praise but not much commercial exposure. 1997’s Brighten The Corners was understated and masterful, as was 1999’s graceful swansong Terror Twilight. But Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, for many Pavement fans, is their unquestionable masterpiece, kind of a ‘first among equals’ of their dazzling back catalogue.
Listen to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: Bob Nastanovich, classic album, Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, cult '90s, Ed Biggs, Mark Ibold, Pavement, Scott Kannberg, Stephen Malkmus, Steve West
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