The idea of reviewing a Pavement best of compilation is at once daunting and thrilling. More so than just an assessment of the retrospective released on longtime record label Matador and fittingly, if not ironically, titled Quarantine The Past: The Best of Pavement after a lyric in one of Pavement’s most beloved tracks “Gold Soundz,” the purposes of this review are to analyze and celebrate the indie-rock darlings. In conjunction with their first (and a most deserved one at that) best of collection, March marks the commencement of the band’s first tour in over a decade, a reunion that seems decades in the works and millions of fan letters in the making.
Though I can not accurately report that my first encounter with the band’s music was entirely awe-inspiring there was a totally compelling and coyly inviting quality about the sludgy-distorted, home recording nature of the music and the balance between whimsy and erudition in the lyrics of Slanted & Enchanted that instigated my constant replaying of the record until I was absolutely captivated. For an entire summer I was “Rattled by the Rush,” blasting my car “Stereo” to the “Gold Soundz,” “Fighting This Generation” by imploring people “Cut Your Hair” all the while somehow remaining quite “Grounded.” OK, OK, I admit it is a campy kind of catch phrase. But it is that same self-aware inanity that makes Pavement so likable. Disagree with that claim? Listen to “Carrot Rope” (inexplicable omission from album). Though you can certainly seek out gravity in Pavement’s music with a large degree of success, it is their ability to collude seriousness with silliness that produces such splendor in their songs.
Because of their vast array of remarkable songs, no single best of collection, even if a double album, can possibly satisfy the desires of all Pavement fans thoroughly. As an ardent fan of their third album Wowee Zowee, I was upset to see a decided lack of representation on the album. Songs like “Rattled By the Rush,” “Motion Suggests,” “Father to a Sister of a Thought” and “Kennel District” which I would have considered shoo-ins, were mysteriously absent from the track listing. Nevertheless, the powers that be, presumably Stephen Malkmus and executives at Matador, compiled the album with a concerted effort to embrace the band’s more obscure songs. Six of the 23 tracks, including the anthemic “Frontwards” from the renowned Watery Domestic E.P., do not come directly from any of their five albums proper.
In true art-over-commerce fashion, Pavement seems far more concerned with releasing what they consider to be their best songs rather than pandering to the masses. But don’t consider the evaluation as any sort of indictment, but rather as exaltation. Pavement always seemed to do it their way, and perhaps it is that feature, though sometimes conveyed as tawdry brattiness, and more frequently as entitled attitude for having crafted some of the most “Perfect Sound Forever” that have endeared so many to the band over the two-decade plus career. And fortunately for us fans there scarcely exists a Pavement song that could legitimately be argued its way off of any best-of compilation.
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