Pavement - Quarantine The Past: The Best Of Pavement - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Pavement - Quarantine The Past: The Best Of Pavement

by Pete Sykes Rating:10 Release Date:2010-03-08

Pavement split up eleven years ago, in 1999, having stamped their indelible mark on American music, while never quite becoming as massive as they occasionally threatened to be. After lo-fi beginnings came 1994's masterpiece Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and its attendant hit singles 'Cut Your Hair' and 'Range Life', the band followed this with the bizarre, rambling, remarkable Wowee Zowee, shying away from the indie mainstream and alienating many of their new found fans. Pavement's brilliance came not from being rock stars or making radio-friendly hits, but from wilful perversity; the surprising, the surreal, the peculiar. In the words of lead singer and songwriter Steve Malkmus, Pavement were "probably a couple of freaks who've created their own little universe, are living in our own little world and that's the only place where we can survive." The pressures of being a huge commercial band would have destroyed them, as well as robbed them of their charm. After five albums, all superb in their own way, exhaustion and jadedness eventually set in, and the band split amicably. The eleven-year hiatus has seen Malkmus continue to purse the odd, the goofy and the experimental with his band The Jicks, while guitarist Spiral Stairs produced two albums of conventional but pleasing harmony pop with Preston School of Industry. Now, Pavement have reformed to tour the world and, like the Pixies (another band who never tasted commercial success but saw their reputation relentlessly grow after their break-up) in 2004, treat their fans - many of whom have only heard them on record - to their brilliance first-hand. Quarantine the Past is a companion to that tour intended, perhaps, to introduce those who are merely aware of their mighty reputation to the band's awesome back catalogue.

There are 23 tracks on Quarantine the Past and, like a typical Pavement album, about half of them are pop classics, while the rest are more quirky, leftfield affairs. So we have most of the greats on here - the glittering 'Gold Soundz', the hilarious 'Stereo', 'Cut Your Hair', 'Shady Lane', 'Spit on a Stranger', Range Life', 'Trigger Cut', and 'Grounded', amongst others. All are as utterly charming, melodic and brilliant on Quarantine as they were the first time you heard them. It would have been easy to find enough similarly infectious works to fill out the whole record - there's no 'Rattled By The Rush' here, for example, no 'Silence Kid', and only one track from the band's brilliant final album, Terror Twilight - but lesser-known cuts are unearthed instead. 'Unfair' and 'Heaven is a Truck', from Crooked Rain, are included, the former a punky, sardonic take on Beverly Hills teen snobbery, the latter a blissfully drifting exercise in surrealism. From Brighten the Corners, as well as the two singles, we have Spiral Stairs' lovely, chiming 'Date w/Ikea', a foretaste of the style he pursued with Preston School of Industry, and Malkmus' blistering 'Embassy Row', replete with dizzyingly inventive wordplay ("I need to get born, I need to get dead/I'm sick of the forms, I'm sick of being misread/By men in dashikis and their leftist weeklies"). And from the band's first album, Slanted & Enchanted, 'In the Mouth A Desert' and the Fall-like 'Two States' keep things lo-fi and pleasingly shambolic, a style they moved away from in later years. There's a smattering of tracks that can't be found on any Pavement albums - 'Frontwards' and 'Shoot the Singer' from the Watery, Domestic E.P, and early recordings like 'Box Elder' and 'The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence', a tongue-in-cheek history of R.E.M. ("Time After Time was my least favourite song," Malkmus wails). All are unique and radiant in their new context.

The balance between the familiar and the obscure is about right: Quarantine contains everything you need to appreciate what a great band Pavement were/are. None of these songs sound old or dated; 'Range Life' sarcastically skewers the mediocre post-grunge bands that Pavement got lumped in with in the early 90s ("Out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins/Nature kids, they don't have no function/I don't understand what they mean/And I could really give a fuck"), but it still feels fresh and funny long after the unfortunate targets have faded into relative obscurity. 'Stereo' is still amazing, and Malkmus' eye for surreal detail ("Pigs they tend to wiggle when they walk/The infrastructure rots/And the owners hate the jocks") remains unmatched by any songwriter since. 'Gold Soundz', 'Trigger Cut' and 'Shady Lane' are gorgeous, summery indie-pop classics, and will always remain so. Distributed evenly throughout the record, their brilliance is accentuated and they complement the b-sides and rarities perfectly.

It's a shame that room couldn't be found for 'Rattled by the Rush', or the witty, self-referencing b-side 'Harness Your Hopes' ("Show me a word that rhymes with Pavement/And I will kill your parents"), but this is a pointless quibble. For the uninitiated, Quarantine is a perfect summary of the band's work; for fans it's a delightful way of hearing old favourites in a new context. Everything on here is brilliant - hence the eye-watering 10 rating - and bodes well for a tour that should see this remarkable band cement their reputation amongst the greats.

Pete Sykes

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