I'm pretty sure Pavement is the greatest rock and/or roll band of all time. This is almost exclusively Stephen Malkmus' fault. Sure, there were other contributors to this band, but damn near everything Malkmus wrote has become part of what I would consider to be essential rock songs. The guy was even knocking it out of the park on some of the filler songs on tour EPs.
The problem is that not nearly enough people listen to Pavement or are even the least bit familiar with their songs. They were the great underground, independent band of the 90's but were never able to achieve much, if any, crossover success. I assume this can be chalked up to a few factors: Malkmus' lyrics, while entirely brilliant, can seem quite cryptic at times and require attention span, intelligence and some level of thought. Pavement's musicianship also comes off as mediocre at best, which may be an entirely fair criticism, but Pavement guitar solos are never really the reason to listen to a Pavement song in the first place. Also, having seen Malkmus play recently with his new band, The Jicks, the guy can play guitar quite competently. I'm not sure if this is due to years of practice or whether he could always play guitar but did not focus on that aspect in his songs with Pavement because it seems he was bursting at the seams with song ideas and was simply trying to feverishly get them all out and recorded.
Regardless, discovering Pavement for myself a few years ago was a huge moment in my music listening life. I'm pretty sure a Pavement CD of some variety was in my car's CD player for about a 6 month stretch, non-stop. After the Jicks concert, I went out and bought the fantastic re-issue of their 3rd album, Wowee Zowee, and was blown away. The next day I went and bought the re-issues of Slanted & Enchanted, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and Brighten the Corners. And that was it...there was no looking back.
The problem with Pavement is that they don't necessarily come across as immediately engaging upon first listen. I had been familiar with them for a few years prior and never got too into them outside a few songs. But after a couple repeated listenings, I was entirely blown away by this band. And the more you listen to them, the more you appreciate Malkmus' genius. So, I've decided to attempt to spread the gospel and attempt to provide some sort of guide to becoming a Pavement fan. Over the next couple posts I'll recommend some songs, post some YouTube links and let any readers decide for themselves.
The first step in listening to Pavement is to understand that there are two songwriters in the band: Stephen Malkmus and a fellow who played under the unfortunate moniker of Spiral Stairs. Malkmus' contributions usually achieve or, at the very least, border on brilliance while Spiral Stairs' songs tend to come across as filler more than anything. He's a serviceable songwriter but is simply not on Malkmus' levels and unfortunately for him this fact gets magnified when his song is sandwiched between Malkmus tunes on the album (and I am admittedly quite guilty of simply hitting the next button on the Spiral Stairs tunes).
So, if you're new to Pavement, where do you start? I'd suggest checking out the first song you may have actually heard since it had a minor amount of success upon its release, saw some MTV play and is now the opening song to Pardon the Interruption on ESPN/TSN. That song would be Cut Your Hair which is by no means their best song but is one of their more accessible and recognizable tunes.
I'll also leave you with another tune that found a little bit of success, Shady Lane, off their Brighten the Corners album.
One of the things I love about this song, and like all Pavement songs, is that within the often cryptic narrative of the song, there are individual parts you can pluck out and appreciate their brilliance on their own merit without having to be placed in the context of the rest of the song. One example from this song is the chorus "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god......oh my god, oh your god, oh his god, oh their god....it's everybody's god, it's everybody's god, it's everybody's god, it's everybody's god...the world's collide and all I want is a shady lane." The subtle jab Malkmus takes at either the phrase "Oh my god" or perhaps even religion itself is really quite brilliant.