Confession time: I have in the past pretended to know about Pavement long before I actually listened to them. I blame Damon Albarn - when Blur's excellent self-titled album came out the standard critic response was 'rips off/inspired by' Pavement (depending on the view). For an albeit brief period lo-fi was king as even the biggest band in the world at the time (fuck off Bono) REM experimented with the genre. So blink and you'll miss it, Stephen Maulkmus was an acclaimed rock star and his final album as Pavement was 'Terror Twilight.' So named after the most dangerous period for traffic, which is nice.
The album has been described as having something of a Radiohead feel thanks to Nigel Godrich's production and the harmonica hollywood cameos of Johnny Greenwood. Make no loose aspersions though - this is unmistakeably Pavement. The bold move to kick off with Spit on a Stranger may have been record company influenced being the most instantly commercial effort on show but it certainly proves a worthy welcomes to Maulkmus' message. If you aren't familiar with Pavement's previous albums then I highly recommend you seek them out. Those who have will understand what I mean when I say everything sounds fuller and more precise on this album than before. Pavement are in a good place and the confidence shows in the willingness to show off musicianship and vocal abilities whilst erring on the right side of self-indulgence. The famed fuzzy-sonic sound and experimental approach to melody still remains - as brilliantly evident on You Are A Light. Not all of the album is happiness and rainbows as the rage comes to the fore in brilliant yet repugnant ode to the damage women can do 'Cream of Gold':
So much for destiny,
A pin prick on my knee,
The frost you paint
across our dead affair.
I sensed the toxic aura
from the second we touched,
You were stitched up venom
and I was the cursed from the Vedic.
The repetition of beige throughout the lyrics creates the image of a departing lover having taken all the singer's passion. All in all this makes for a striking contrast to the song that follows; Major Leagues is the lilting lament of a man dealing with lost youth and the reality of growing up. This may sound depressing subject matter yet the combination of honey vocals and beautifully intwined guitar makes for an uplifting experience. However this certainly falls short of being the perfect album; Maulkmus' style is on such a knife edge that any drop in form stands out a mile and Ann Don't You Cry certainly falls short alongside many of the other tracks. It just goes to show that even bands of this standard are susceptible to the odd filler track. Similarly (and this might well lead to some abuse) Billie just doesn't work for me. One tangent too many is followed which undoubtedly detracts from the overall impact of the song. There is a swift return to form though as Speak. See. Remember. succeeds precisely where Billie fails showing the fine margins that this style of music operates under. I'm surely not the first to draw comparisons between Maulkmus and Beck and nowhere is it more apt than on this track which wouldn't be out of place on Modern Guilt. I think Godrich deserves credit here as like on the rest of the album he resists the temptation to meddle and keeps the production refreshing clean which as I said earlier provides an opportunity to appreciate the musicianship in a way earlier albums simply didn't offer. The Hexx is a fine example of this - it is tragic that this was the final album Pavement made as it really documents a band in the form of their life. Maybe Maulkmus knew this as he finishes with the absolutely triumphant Carrot Rope. It quite simply is the most brilliant song ever to involve a wicket keeper!
Pavement fully deserve the description as the Velvet Underground for the 90s. This is a fine album with minimal filler and will stand the test of time as the legacy of a quite brilliant band.
Spit On a Stranger live
Cream of Gold live
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