Often, people talk about Wowee Zowee as the one that diehard Pavement fans like the most. While this may be a case of pointless allegiance outside the mainstream, Wowee Zowee does have its moments. Lots of them, in fact. Matador’s wonderful decision to repackage all the old Pavement albums has given us acres of unreleased curios to plough through in the past, and this expansion pack of a collection is no exception. Joyously, we are treated to some live versions of songs from previous album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, which are as serious and hilarious as Pavement always were, but with added banter. They’ve also thrown in B-Sides to “Rattled By The Rush,” an old EP, Lamacq session tracks, even “Sensitive Euro Man” from the I Shot Andy Warhol soundtrack. All of it is still utterly listenable, compulsive even. Those live versions, particularly “Heaven Is A Truck,” are gloriously silly and punishing and brilliantly spangly all at once, maybe some sort of pardoning of Malkmus’ latter day sin of all that stupid perfectionism.
But the thing that still surprises and, probably is the reason for Wowee Zowee‘s special place in the hearts of devotees, is the sheer freedom that Pavement exudes on this release. Where debut Slanted and Enchanted sounded brilliantly spasticated and like a bear squashed into a jam jar, Wowee Zowee is that same bear frolicking in a much wider open space. The squelches of jazzy cack-handed wah-guitar all over the background of “Rattled By The Rush,” the sheer intense pop of “AT&T,” the hushed Motown madness of “Grave Architecture”… this is what it means to be free. But with that power comes great responsibility, and Pavement managed to just about get through the whole record without making any of it sound difficult or indulgent. But that’s the slacker charm, yeah? Being massively clever and not telling anyone? Yeah.
Aside from that obvious point of just being so loveable, Pavement construct on Wowee Zowee an earthy, healthy kind of experimentation. One feels that there could have been a great deal more weird stuff happening, but they made the sagely choice to tone it down and fill the whole thing with enough poppy hooks and practice room quirks to adhere the whole thing to itself. That’s why this expanded version is so very vital to understanding the pressure of being in Pavement at that time. While it may not have been their most anticipated release by 1995, it was received like a minor classic, proof to the faithful that Pavement could still make it happen. With the sketchy strength of the original record intact, any bonus material assembled here is like a visit from an old relation. Thanks to Matador for making a great album greater.
Sebadoh – Harmacy
Guided by Voices – Under the Bushes, Under the Stars
Archers of Loaf – All the Nation’s Airports