Here’s where the Pavement reissue train starts to look like a silly amusement park ride. Wowee Zowee (1995) was already a sprawling mess (which, of course, means some Pavement fans hold it dearest to their hearts, like a sloppy drunk boyfriend who you love despite his antics). Its original eighteen tracks were already too packed with ephemera like “Best Friend’s Arm.” “Brinx Job,” “Serpentine Pad,” “Flux=Rad” and “Western Homes” all clocked in at less than two minutes and were more random ideas than completely thought-through songs. Following that nomenclature, it’s anyone’s guess what exactly we should call “Sordid” and “Sentinel,” which are among the first-disc’s eleven bonus tracks and measure twenty-eight and fourteen seconds, respectively.
Adding all this fluff creates two diametrically opposed effects. On one side, it’s a sad story that out of a now total of fifty tracks, only a handful stand out. On the other, those highlights now shine brighter than ever. “Rattled by the Rush” still may be the most glorious example of slack rock ever recorded. (Remember when, in a moment of irony that almost made the universe fold over on itself and implode, Beavis and Butthead watched the video for it and implored Pavement to try harder?) “Grounded” is about as genuinely pretty as Pavement ever got. “Father to a Sister of Thought” deserves an award for the best use of slide guitar in indiedom. And “Grave Architecture” sounds like Talking Heads circa More Songs About Buildings and Food covering Spandau Ballet’s “True.”
The bonus material on the twenty-one song second disc doesn’t get much more essential than the teeny tiny tracks mentioned above. There’s both the original and a live version of “Painted Soldiers”; sure the song is great, but the concert take isn’t different from the studio one in any recognizable way. “We Dance” also shows up twice, once under the name “Dancing with the Elders.” A live version of “Fight This Generation” sprawls out annoyingly to over eight minutes. But on the brighter side, a live version of “Box Elder,” after a honky-tonk start, settles into a typically fantastic run-through.
It almost burns me in blasphemy to write this. Pavement was a pillar in my musical maturation (I have a cat named Malkmus). I just don’t believe every little whim a band records necessarily needs to see the light of day. Even those Beatles Anthologies contained some pretty shitty moments. That’s not to say some of Pavement’s brain farts didn’t come out as perfect pop perfection: “I Love Perth” might be the band’s best minute and five seconds. Too bad moments like that are the exception rather than the rule on this reissue.