Whats Word That Rhymes With Pavement
Interviewed in Spin on the release of their second album, Stephen
Malkmus promised that some day Pavement would make an album that was
technically perfect, without any mistakes or so-called sloppiness. 'Maybe by
the time we're five albums in,' he said.
Terror Twilight, their fifth release, has polished their loose sound
to a slick sheen, with every guitar note in its place, every drum kick right
on the beat, every vocal on pitch. From the band that once proclaimed
'perfect sound forever,' the results are a little, well, dull.
Despite the involvement of producer-of-the-moment Nigel Godrich (Radiohead,
Beck), Terror Twilight is immediately recognizable as a Pavement
album. There are the shimmering guitars, the catchy melodies, and Malkmus
tossing off brilliant couplets like 'Architecture students are like virgins
with an itch they cannot scratch/ Never build a building till you're 50/
What kind of life is that?' But for all the great songs and moments, there's
the inescapable feeling of being held at arm's length and asked to admire
the album's perfect construction, rather than fall in love with its
idiosyncrasies. By cutting away the rough edges and spontaneous gestures
that helped to define their music, Pavement have lost some of their
essential beauty. They should know better than anyone that the notes you
miss mean more than the ones you hit.
Ever since Wowee Zowee (1995) -- a ragged, sprawling masterpiece that
perplexed fans and critics -- Pavement has seemed intent on high-tailing it
to more conventional pastures. For Brighten the Corners (1997), they
trimmed song structures to recognizable shapes, tightened production values
and slowed down the songs. Twilight continues this trend, wallowing
almost exclusively in mid-tempo shuffles. 'I get high on action,' Malkmus
sings on the new B-side, 'Roll with the Wind.' But he only raises his voice
a few times, preferring the laid-back singing style introduced in ballads
like 'We Dance.' For a band that named its Internet site
'Pavement-the-Rock-Band.com,' there's a serious dearth of rock 'n' roll
The album opens with 'Spit on a Stranger' ( RealAudio excerpt ),
a pleasant -- I can't avoid the word -- ditty. It has a lovely melody, a loping beat and swooning background
vocals, but the effect evaporates almost before the song is over. Gorgeous
ballads like 'Major Leagues' and 'Ann Don't Cry' ( RealAudio excerpt )
are more effective, perfecting a form the band has been playing with
since 'Here' and 'Newark Wilder.' The guitars have a crystalline jangle, chiming and sighing in
perfect tandem with the melody, tugging at your heartstrings from unexpected
'Speak, See, Remember' ( RealAudio excerpt )
starts off sounding almost like jazz before sliding into the only full-throttle rock on the album. 'Cream of Gold' is
gratifyingly heavy, with some excellent guitar interplay by Malkmus and
Steve 'Spiral Stairs' Kannberg. Even though the quality of the songs is
remarkably consistent (there are no songs by Spiral Stairs), they sound a
bit too familiar, like sewn-together composites from all the previous
albums. 'The Hexx' feels exactly like Brighten the Corners' closer,
'Fin,' from the slow-motion guitar solo down to the lyrics about architects.
The only song that adds anything new to Pavement's bag of tricks is 'Folk
Jam,' which uses a banjo to split the difference between country twang and
Arabic drone, while Malkmus confides, 'Irish folktales scare the shit out of
Terror Twilight creates a stoner vibe, the lulling sense that you've
been here before but that it's somehow different the second time around.
It's permeated by a sense of impeccably crafted decay, a rarified mood for
The B-sides stand in sharp relief to the album, telling a different story.
'Harness Your Hopes' is fueled by a pounding CCR beat as Malkmus blasts out
a dense string of some of his best and funniest lyrics. How can anyone
resist lines like 'Show me a word that rhymes with Pavement/ and I won't
kill your parents/ and roast them on a spit'? 'Roll with the Wind' choogles
like vintage Lynyrd Skynyrd (that's a compliment), with an insanely catchy
chorus and some fantastic guitar. Both songs are messy, fun and impassioned.
They're memorable precisely because they don't sound so damned careful.
I was going to end the review by quoting the opening lines of 'Ann Don't
Cry': 'The damage has been done/ I am not having fun anymore.' But that
seems too easy, too premature. Another lyric better sums up my feelings:
'You kiss like a rock, but you know I need it anyway.' Right. Terror
Twilight casts its own hazy, meandering spell, but I can't help feeling
that we're on the cusp of diminishing returns. Terror Twilight lacks
the liveliness of 'Harness Your Hopes,' even the off-the-cuff charm of their
shows. Still, not many bands, even at their best, deliver this much. I want
more, but I'll take what I can get.