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Class ?

Main Category: Smart Pop
Also applicable: Avantgarde, Punk/Grunge
Starting Period: From Grunge To The Present Day
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Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Pavement fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Pavement fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1992

Just to let everybody know how unbelievably special this site is, I'll be reviewing this album from a non-traditional point of view. The traditional one is: "Don't tell anybody, but this record sucks - I'll praise it for being influential and lo-fi and all that, but the goddamn thing's actually a mess with just a few really good songs thrown in. But in terms of overall importance, sure, it rules." (A sub-version of that take is when you actually say all the songs are good but intentionally spend 99% of the review praising the band's and the album's influence to high heaven so that everybody be able to understand you hate it).

Well, I'm incredibly special, and I failed to see the album's importance and influence. Oh okay, so a lot of Nineties' indie-rock bands took their inspiration from the sprawling dirty senseless mess of Slanted. In reality, though, they were taking all this inspiration from (a) shocking punk-attitude singer-songwriters like Lou Reed, (b) guitar-molesters like Sonic Youth, and (c) soulful college rock heroes like R.E.M., because that's exactly what Pavement are: a combination of these sources. There ain't one sound on this record that in any way whatsoever I could call "innovative"; if anything, Pavement's rise to underground power is just yet another obvious demonstration of how guitar-driven rock music was totally spent by the early Nineties. Think about it - when you say Slanted & Enchanted, you say "lo fi", and what's "lo-fi"? Merely a clever way of saying "music that sounds like it was produced and recorded according to Sixties' garage standards". Tomorrow I might write something in the style of Homer's Odyssey, then, and call it the fresh beginning of the "Anti-Modernist" direction in literature.

So whassup then? The matter is, Slanted & Enchanted still manages to be good because these influences are tied together by solid songwriting. That - solid songwriting - is what helped Pavement to become indie gods for a few years, not any kind of new musical vision they brought on the scene. Simply put, they do Lou Reed almost as good as Lou Reed himself; they do Sonic Youth almost better than Sonic Youth themselves; and they do R.E.M. worse than R.E.M., but just a wee bit different so you don't really mind. Personally, I'm satisfied with that - for the moment.

I have little interest in Pavement lyrics (they're not supposed to make much sense anyway); what matters here is the rawness of the delivery and the pure melodic impact which is a little hard to locate behind all the rawness of the delivery, but keep trying anyway. Speaking of "trying", a few of the tracks on here are really really grating, like 'Conduit For Sale!', but even then it's fun to see how smartly the boys harness the noise and actually tie the dissonance and distortion of the track onto a solid funky rhythm track. However, for the most part Slanted & Enchanted is "melodic" rather than "amelodic" - like, 'Summer Babe' might not seem more than a random collection of crunchy power chords at first, but then you realize it's Malkmus' vocal hooks that are supposed to be the song's high point. And then there are cases when distortion actually helps: check out, for instance, the delightful near-acid effect that the main riff on 'Fame Throwa' has, or the totally mind-blowing effect of the twin guitar attack on 'Perfume-v'. Again, Pavement were not the first band to harness distortion, but they sure put a personal stamp on these guitar tones, and I'll be damned if I don't hear Pavement "ricochet influences" on something like Lou Reed's latest albums... nah, prob'ly not.

Don't think this is all jarring and roaring either: some of these songs are more like delicious little slabs of traditional power-pop. 'Trigger Cut', for instance, which sounds like Oasis ripped half of their career off it (stop me before I really start talking in influence terms contrary to the preliminary promise). 'Zurich Is Stained' was definitely stolen from some early Lou Reed outtake... even the slide guitars sound like something Lou would be happy about. Not to mention the singing guy really sounds like Lou's long lost brother or, at least, bastard offspring.

They even pull an audacious gamble of finishing the album with a multi-minimalist groove ('Our Singer'), essentially based on an endless repetition of one lazily hit power chord - and for some reason, it works, maybe because I haven't heard anybody do it like this before. Not that these guys can't play - there's quite a few nicely arranged guitar solos around, and they can do funk and boogie whenever they want. But this only highlights the weird charm of that last song. Ah well, whatever. I have no idea what else to say except that I wouldn't recommend anybody to begin their acquaintance with rock music with Pavement. To me, it's just one of those albums that could be appreciated much better with at least a little knowledge of, uhm, hm, prehistory.


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