Pavement - Quarantine The Past
Kurt Cobain once said "There are some pop songs I hate but I can't get them out of my head. Our songs also have the standard pop format: Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, bad solo. All in all, I think we sound like The Knack and the Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath."
One of the pillars of Nirvana’s success was that behind all the layers of fuzz were well crafted pop songs. Although not achieving the world domination that would eventually tear Nirvana apart were Pavement. They were also blessed with an exceptional gift for melody and song structure. Whilst they were never a household name to those who fell under their spell they held a quirky charm beyond that of their Seattle brethren.
Quarantine The Past is a collection of 23 of their finest undertakings, an almost mythical selection of songs which effortlessly seize the triad of quality, credibility and accessibility. Stephen Malkmus’s nonsensical lyrics - “Well focus on the quasar in the mist / The kaiser has a cyst / And I'm a blank want list” - flow resplendently alongside their music. Whether it was their later Nigel Godrich produced radio friendly output or early rackets dug up from the bottom of their lo-fi allotment everything sparkles with their can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it brilliance.
At their creative peak they would throw great tracks out as b-Sides or on John Peel session (criminally absent is the 1992 session track ‘Circa 1762’) that most bands would sell organs to have penned. Early classics like ‘Debris Slide’ or ‘Box Elder’ might seem noisy or simplistic on the surface, but melodies within melodies grow from the distortion and chaos. These are tracks that at twenty years old still keep giving more on every listen.
Moving on through their career their classic debut Slanted & Enchanted and its follow up Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain are well represented. ‘Summer Babe’, ‘Here’, ‘Range Life’ and ‘Gold Soundz’ are still ten-out-of-ten stone-cold classics; and like the Velvet Underground they may not have set cash registers on fire - but their influence on future generations of musicians is immeasurable.
Their later period may have been marred by disagreements within the band and creative disputes between Malkmus and guitarist Spiral Stairs but still produced its fair share of quality material. Strangely, the only inclusion from their final album Terror Twilight is ‘Spit On A Stranger’ – ‘Carrot Rope’ and ‘Major Leagues’ are both notable by their absence. For a band with an output as diverse as Pavement the 23 tracks manage to represent the various periods of their history. It would be churlish to continue making a long list of what isn’t on here, especially as adding certain tracks would generate the impossible task of deciding what to remove to fit it on a single disc.
Quarantine The Past is one of the finest examples of a Best Of album, although it’s only a toe in the water. To experience Pavement properly picking up each of their incredible albums is still the only way to do it.