Pavement Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition
Maybe I’m projecting here. But upon this re-release, all gussied up with b-sides and Peel sessions and whatever other farts were lying around, I can’t help but think this is the deepest Stephen Malkmus gets lyrically.
Beginning (and on the bonus disc, ending) with “We Dance” it feels pretty clear that SM was experiencing a shift in his romantic relationship. “There is no castration fear,” addresses an assumed loss of masculinity associated with marriage. These are the first words sung on the record. The “dance” is a reference to matrimonial obligation of the reception ceremony.
But his position changes from a “we’ll dance” to a “maybe we can dance” just as one can imagine the mental see-saw of “I must marry this woman,” to “I guess I could marry this woman.” The call to “sing a song of praise for your elders” is the family, grandparents, stinky old aunts, all the fools who’ve jumped into the marriage pool headfirst without checking to see the depth.
“Pick out some Brazilian nuts for your engagement” cannot get any more straightforward, a cheeky rib on the perverted minutiae consumed by so-called Bridezillas. “Check the expiration date man, it’s later than you think,” feels that there’s more bachelor life still available, yet to be used, buried down inside with all kinds of potential.
“You can’t enjoy yourself, I can’t enjoy myself” is every argument ever recorded between male and female from the beginning of time.
Or maybe it’s sung from the point of view of a father, speaking words of advice to a son on the cusp of taking the plunge, a hymn to calm down an overreacting mind, especially with “I won’t be there to give you up because I don’t have a clue anymore” An old man, dumb-ened by the years of marriage, left mentally vacant, clueless. “We Dance” is Pavement at it’s peak, clever lyrically, melodic and tender all without compromising the curiosity that leaves the listener picking, looking at the layers and trying to figure it all out.
As an addendum, you also cannot ignore the hugely significant line in “Rattled by the Rush” of “I don’t need a minister to call me a groom.” Why do we have to get married? We love each other, we know how we stand, this entire pomp and ceremony is just for everyone else. Lest we not forget the title of this song, repeated ad infinitum in a eye-scratchingly catchy way, it’s clear someone is left shaken at the speed of events.
Let me just make a disclaimer that I really have no idea what anyone’s lyrics are about 99% of the time. And even now, it’s all just a guess. I cannot fucking stand it when a reviewer makes a claim like “xyz song is about abc.” Really? Who told you? Try saying “I think” and then make whatever hare-brained claim you want. Lyrics are so damn personal and can very well be meaningless.
The b-sides are all great and this is easily my favorite Pavement album. I’ve read this is the hipster’s choice in their canon? Still find that hard to believe. Any excuse to come back and listen to it again is welcomed. Bonus material (Disc 2) leaves me in the exact same mindset as the bonus discs from “Slanted and Enchanted” and “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” did. The mindset is bored.
Pavement opened with “Grounded” at the 40 Watt in Athens, GA and the opening guitar line, all delicate and spare, resonated with me while some fans tried to climb a lighting rig to grab a band t-shirt the Malk had tossed from the stage in a fit of some sort of promotional foresight. Ibold had the beard, I sold merch next to Lance Bangs selling Pave’d gear. Grabbed two of the setlists and then gave them to bigger Pavement fans when I got home. Nastanovich used my leopard print Third Man-upholstered drum seat for the occasion. SM was aloof. There was a party in a huge mansion afterwards. I skipped three days of school to do it.
Anyway, those lace-like guitar lines in “Grounded” bring all those memories straight to the forefront of my mind. I could listen to just that song (and/or “We Dance”) and intrinsically feel the rest of the album. That’s an emotion you cannot fake.