Crooked Rain Crooked Rain


Matador, 1994

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


There always seemed to be two types of bands in the mid-period of the alternative rock movement: those that cared, and those that didn't. The ones who cared – U2, 10,000 Maniacs, Out Of Time-era R.E.M., Pearl Jam – had the commercial sales but not the critical reception, outside of the college rock movement that loved everything not actually on the radio.

The bands who didn't care – Dinosaur Jr., The Replacements, Sebadoh, Pavement, early Nirvana – are the ones that brought home the critical reviews as well as the rabid college rock fanbase. To this day, rock snobs will praise these lo-fi garage rock bands until our ears bleed, because three dudes in a garage bashing away barely-audible instruments for two minutes is real rock and everything else is Mainstream Posing for Rampant Commercial Success and How Dare You?

These are the same critics and fans who adore the Velvet Underground, which proved, along with punk, to be the major inspiration for many of the alternative bands when the movement started. What set Pavement apart was their gleeful embrace of all rock and pop from the first 30 years, and nowhere is this more apparent than on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. The music is still firmly rooted in the lo-fidelity, garage band aesthetics that initially defined the alternative movement before they discovered things like "production values" and "volume knobs" and "lyrics," but infused with a twisting, devil-may-care songwriting approach that seemingly throws darts at an AOR station for inspiration.

Crooked Rain also builds on the foundation of Slanted & Enchanted, a critical pick for one of the top alt-rock albums of the ‘90s (though not this critic) by adding band members and becoming an actual band, instead of an outlet for Stephen Malkmus and whatever lyrics he scrawled on a napkin that morning. But don’t be fooled by the slightly better production, the ringing guitars and bits of piano and lyrics with specific purpose (some directed at the music industry, some requisitely about drugs); this is still Pavement, but actually starting to care a little bit. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The single "Cut Your Hair" is a gleeful '90s alt-rocker with a sardonic sense of humor and some falsetto "ooh-ooh" vocals that enhance the muted guitar roar; it's the first time Pavement really tried for something approaching a radio-ready single, and it does the trick. The catchy cavalcade of riffs and cowbell percussion (because why the hell not?) that start "Silence Kid" (not "Silence Kit," got it?) bring this album's crashing purpose to the forefront, and what follows are variations on the theme of indie garage rock with a hint of country punk and a healthy, ironic love of classic rock.

The raging, kinetic "Unfair" could have been a hit on par with "Cut Your Hair," with only the unnecessary screaming in the final 30 seconds dragging it down a notch. The album then careens through the so-so "Gold Soundz" before stopping on a two-minute jazzy interlude called "5-4 = Unity" that is thrown in just because, again, why not? But as a prelude to "Range Life," it works well.

"Range Life" is a fascinating song, with Malkmus sounding more vulnerable and straightforward than ever and lending the chorus some sweetness because of it. It’s also got a chiming guitar solo to boot; that is, until the final stanza, where he insults the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots by name (they being two of the bands who care and, predictably, sold a lot of records and garnered far more MTV play and mainstream press). After that roast, the song sort of ends on a jam – it almost leads one to think that, as long as bands like those are popular, Malkmus has a musical mission to continue that will keep him from the life of normality he craves. (He later said that no insult was intended after Billy Corgan, in keeping with character, complained and got Pavement kicked off Lollapalooza in 1994.

Driving the album's theme (there they go starting to care again) is an exploration of going on thirty, something Malkmus was doing at the time, and the strains of indifference, emotion, and intelligence shine through the disc. It's far from the masterpiece that critics hail it as; the dissonant "Hit The Plane Down" and the overlong "Fillmore Jive" kill all the goodwill that "Range Life" built up, while "Elevate Me Later" and "Gold Soundz" just sort of float along in a haze, albeit an appealing one when combined with the whole. And yes, I know the latter is a certified Pavement classic for many, but I just can't get into it.

No matter. I didn't buy the hype for Slanted & Enchanted and I still have a nagging aversion to lo-fi indie rock in general that critics salivate over. Yet by upgrading the production just a bit and writing lyrics that could possibly mean something, combined with a mostly-solid set of songs that ebb and flow just right, this ends up being Pavement's best album and probably the best place to start for neophytes. Pavement may not have cared much, but this disc proves more than most others of its type that such an approach had appeal, and the affectations of the more mainstream rock acts of 1994 start to seem a bit odious by comparison.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2015 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Matador, and is used for informational purposes only.