Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: LA’s Desert Origins

Let’s dispense with the dialogue. Pavement’s ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ was one of the finest albums of the 1990s. Stop your internal debate. I’m right, you’re wrong. I can prove it on an Etch-a-sketch.

Admittedly, it has always been a moot point amongst Pavement fans about which of their albums is the better: Slanted & Enchanted’ or ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’. And the conclusion most commonly reached is that it’s practically impossible to decide. Personally, I prefer ‘Slanted…’ but not only is that neither here nor there, it also doesn’t mean that I think it’s the better of the two albums.

As with 2002’s ‘Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe’ reissue, the tenth anniversary of ‘Crooked Rain’ sees the release of ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: LA’s Desert Origins’. And, once again, the original album has been expanded into a veritable Christmas stocking of a reissue stuffed to the brim with bonus tracks, b-sides, demos, previously unreleased songs, oranges, Toblerone and those little chocolates that look like coins.

Chances are that most of you will already be familiar with the album itself but let’s recap anyway. ‘Crooked Rain...’ was, quite simply, one of the most perfectly realised records to be released within my lifetime. It was the moment when Pavement made good on all their early promise and proved that they could be consistently wonderful.

In essence, ‘Crooked Rain...’ is the encapsulation of everything that ever had been termed slacker music - Stephen Malkmus’ loquacious lyrics and nasal drawl, a barrage of unstable guitars and a rhythm section that sounded both ridiculously tight yet utterly laid-back at the same time. Never before had an album recorded by a band so heavily influenced by the Fall sounded so tuneful.

Nestling in the midst of this masterpiece were the triumvirate of drop-dead great singles - alt.pop anthem ‘Cut Your Hair’ (allegedly a parting shot at former drummer, Gary Young), the slacker-country jig of ‘Range Life’, and the quasi-existential bop of ‘Gold Soundz’ - each of which helped the album be so well received that some felt inspired to claim that ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’, much like New York before it, to be so good that they named it twice.

Once you’ve successfully navigated the album itself the good news is that it doesn’t end there. There’s that glut of extra tracks to get through. The rest of the reissue adds the b-sides from the ‘Crooked Rain’ singles, and the ‘Jam Kids’ / ‘Haunt You Down’ seven inch. The first disc finishes with a pair of tracks lifted from compilation albums released around the same time as ‘Crooked Rain’: ‘Nail Clinic’ from ‘Hey Drag City’; and the rollicking REM tribute ‘Unseen Power of the Picket Fence’, from the ‘No Alternative’ benefit album.

Unfortunately the ‘Crooked Rain’ b-sides don’t hit the mark with quite such the same regularity as those from later singles though ‘Camera’, ‘Jam Kids’, ‘Haunt You Down’ and ‘Nail Clinic’ are all worthy additions to the album, and ‘Unseen Power...’ is easily as good as the majority of the songs on ‘Crooked Rain’ itself.

As seems to be the norm with these reissues nowadays, the second disc is comprised of demos and previously unreleased tracks, which is where it all starts getting a bit patchy.

The demos include early sketches of a number of songs from both 'Crooked Rain...' and its 1995 follow-up, 'Wowee Zowee'. The most notable versions here are a bare bones take on ’Range Life', minus the Smashing Pumpkins diss, and a piano-led version of ‘Heaven Is A Truck’.

But, as usual, there’s a reason why many of the extra tracks on here never made it past the demo stage and that’s that they’re just not as good as other Pavement songs. ‘Rug Rat’ proves that the Fall influence can be taken too far, ‘Fucking Righteous’ is basically an uninspired Velvet Underground rip-off and ‘JMC Retro’ is little more than an unsuccessful Jesus and Mary Chain pastiche. ‘Flood Victim’ is barely even a song while ‘Colorado’ sounds like it was lifted straight from a John Carpenter score, only shorn of the sense of brooding menace that you would expect.

Fortunately, the balance is redressed by the ‘Crooked Rain...’ styling of ‘All My Friends’ and ‘Same Way Of Saying’ and the ‘Slanted & Enchanted’ nature of ‘Soiled Little Filly’ and ‘Hands Off The Bayou’ before things are bought to a close with the rather stunning jilted jazz lick of ‘The Sutcliffe Catering Song’ (which was eventually retitled ‘Easily Fooled’ and released as a b-side to ‘Rattled By The Rush’), which would have fitted perfectly onto the first side of ‘Wowee Zowee’.

Despite the filler overkill, ten years later and 37 songs richer, Pavement’s second album still sounds as much like a masterpiece as it did back in 1994.

‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’: so good, they released it twice.

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