Friday, October 26, 2007

No. 210: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Band: Pavement
Album: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The picture of indie rock's second album produced the band's only minor hit, "Cut Your Hair," as well as some top-quality melodies. "Range Life," "Gold Soundz" and "Silence Kid" are brilliant and Malkmus' non-sequitors are at their finest.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's hard to justify this album on the merits of the lyrics of the record, if only because they're mostly about nothing. Still, Pavement was more about the lack of image than anything.
Best song: The anti-alt-rock lyrics to "Range Life" are wonderfully subversive and the song's hook is among Malkmus' best.
Worst song: The instrumental "5-4=Unity" isn't all that great.
Is it awesome?: It is.

It's amazing how many bands have tried to cop Pavement's thing, when none of them really can do it well. The irony-soaked bands of today's modern indie rock all attempt Pavement's style, but can't come close.

"Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" is my favorite Pavement record, though I'm not totally sure why. There's something pleasant about it; Malkmus' greatest asset as a songwriter is his ability to combine the right amount of edge and poppiness in his melodies.


I was introduced to Pavement by a friend of mine (now a baseball blogger of some renown) who I was in a band with. Mark's songwriting was hugely influenced by Pavement and being in The Perfect Truck was one of the biggest reasons for my love of indie rock. Pavement, Mark seemed to understand, showed indie rock could be fun, challenging and clever all at the same time.

"Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" is that. The cacophony of "Fillmore Jive" is decidely not indie; It really foreshadowed Malkmus' solo career in jamming. "Cut Your Hair" also features the noisy near-end section, but is, by far, the most melodic Pavement song with its "ooo"s. "Silence Kit" has the angular guitar that saturated indie rock later in the decade.


I'm not the world's biggest Pavement fan, but there's a reason I can pick up "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" at nearly any point and enjoy it. Pitchfork's Mark Richardson sums it up well:

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain has been called one of the great California albums, but unlike most records slapped with that label, it avoids dreams and nightmares and focuses on the banal. This is a suburban California album, and since suburbs are exactly the same from Sacto to Levittown, it's an album to which all suburban kids can relate. To us, the imagery of "Elevate Me Later" ("underneath the fake oil burning lamps in the city we forgot to name") and "Range Life" (the kid on the skateboard is coasting through a winding subdivision, not Brooklyn) is instantly familiar.

(Emphasis is his)

I think that's fitting. As a child of suburbia -- though not subdivisions -- I think the familiarity is clearly there. The laconic value of "Stop Breathin" has the sound of the distinctive suburban life, with Malkmus' "i can see the lines open shutters/and the leaves flocked on a grid" making no sense, yet making perfect sense itself. The song ends on the line "Dad, they broke me," a suburban lament to a parent, if nothing.


The Byrdsesque jangle of "Range Life" (strange video here) is the first thing a listener notices, but it's hardly the only thing. Malkmus' vocal cadences have the laid-back suburban feeling of a teenager and his voice nearly cracks while he hopes in the chorus for a "Range life, where I can settle down." He extends the final syllable into a three-syllable situation, almost searching for soul.

It's a brilliantly crafted song. The easy lead guitar picking appegiated chords over the jangle, the slow 4/4 drums and the rolling bass all envelope Malkmus' voice as he sings of his suburban dreams.

Famously, the song's final verse slams the alternative rock gods of the time:

Out on tour with the smashing pumpkins
Nature kids, they don’t have no function
I don’t understand what they mean
And I could really give a fuck.
The stone temple pilots,
They’re elegant bachelors
They’re foxy to me are they foxy to you?
I will agree there isn’t absolutely nothing
Nothing more than me

Malkmus claimed that the song was written from the point of view of an aging hippie -- presumably former Pavement drummer Gary Young -- looking at alternative rock as silly. He'd substitute The Spice Girls and Counting Crows in live versions of the song. However, super douche bag Billy Corgan threatened to drop his band from the 1994 Lollapalooza tour if Pavement played on the tour.

I know Malkmus tried to talk around it, but I enjoy his attacking Smashing Pumpkins. I find Corgan to be a completely self-important idiot and anytime someone smarter than Corgan can attack him, I applaud it.


Because I don't want to write too much about the song, "Cut Your Hair" has an awesome video:

My personal favorite part is the lizard head mask. Awesome sight gag.

Also, they played it on Leno:

Figure that out.


"Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" will always be known for "Cut Your Hair," which is fine. Nevertheless, it's a great album, filled with awesome melodies and Malkmus' famous clever indie rock steam of consciousness writing.


kellydwyer said...

For the last 13 years, I haven't been able to sing "Gold Soundz" in my head without it merging with the Ass Ponys' "Earth to Grandma."

Take THAT Pitchfork!

kellydwyer said...

Christ. I used to have the same Pavement t-shirt that they're autographing 30 seconds into that 'Range Life' video.

Mark said...

If you haven't read my gigantic Pavement career-spanning piece, here it is: