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Pavement – Quarantine The Past

Domino, 2010
[rating:9.5/10]

It’s hard to be objective about Pavement. For some of us it wasn’t that long ago, and even at the time they really didn’t set the airwaves or MTV or whatever barometer of taste you care to mention on fire. They weren’t Smashing Pumpkins, they weren’t Weezer. They didn’t headline the bills of European Festivals. They didn’t have hits and they definitely weren’t the Pixies, which even now the frenzy around their reunion still seems ridiculous. Pavement were twice the band the Pixies were, but one thing both bands had in common was the growth of their ‘legacy’ in absentia.

Primed for their forthcoming reunion tour, Quarantine The Past is the obligatory ‘best of’ compilation for a group who really had no hits to mention. It’s a ‘best of’ in terms of recorded material, in terms of the members favourite songs, in terms of what went over well live and what still stands the test of time. The song choices will, at least for the hardened Pavement fan, bring out some contention, but you will have to concede on the whole it’s a fitting career representation, wisely chopping off the atonal art-rock beginnings and leaving out the end where Pavement became a vehicle for Malkmus to commandeer.

To start with “Gold Soundz” is logical and apt, at least stylistically. Gold times bring Gold Soundz, and the early 90’s was a fertile time for bands to huddle around umbrella phrases like ‘Alternative Nation’ and then see who survived. Pavement arrived at a time where their debut Slanted & Enchanted easily outshined their contemporaries, and its follow-up Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain only cemented their musical waywardness and Malkmus’ lyrical obfuscatory. As such, both albums are heavily represented, while their 2LP opus Wowee Zowee is almost disregarded entirely. Most song choices are unarguable (“Frontwards”, “Grounded”, “In The Mouth a Desert”), and it would’ve been worthy of a 10 star rating, but half a star was removed for “Heaven is a Truck”. Well, you can’t please everybody…

Even in the context of the rampant Anglophilia that was in the air at the time (circa “Modern Life is Rubbish” “Giant Steps” etc) you could see where the American college kids who grew up listening to a mix of Echo & The Bunnymen and The Fall, as well as their own homegrown acts like Sonic Youth and R.E.M. were coming from. English bands looked inward, American bands looked toward England in fascination and awe. Spiral Stair’s The Fall borrowing “Two States” and Malkmus’ own ode to R.E.M. in “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” both pay tribute to these influences, while “Trigger Cut” is mere coal pressed to Pavement diamond in only a handful of years since their debut EP “Slay Tracks”.

If anybody reads this who wasn’t standing on the frontlines of the early days of the Alternative Rock scene and is wondering whether or not to jump in. Hell, why not. At least let’s hope this reunion respectfully comes and goes and Bob Nastanovich’s cries of “I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying” from Slanted & Enchanted‘s hell-raising “Conduit for Sale” become a quiet whisper of “I’m done, It’s done, We’re done”. Compilation album of the year, easily, from one of the definitive bands of the 90’s.

About the Author:

Craig Smith
Continues his music photography and writing at sonicdocument.com

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