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October 15, 2002

Pavement's debut redux

Pavement

Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe

Matador Records

Luxe & Reduxe is a curious reissue—Slanted itself is a mere ten years old, and while the tidiness of a ten-years-later reissue is neat, the argument remains as to whether or not it's entirely necessary. Pavement completists likely own almost everything, although it's obvious that no one owns the previously unreleased material from the 1992 recording sessions, which is the only thing that makes the reissue worth owning. The 14 original tracks, plus Watery, Domestic, plus b-sides from the "Summer Babe" and "Trigger Cut" singles, two Peel sessions, outtakes from Slanted and Watery sessions, a full concert from '92, but, for all that, there were maybe six tracks that we hadn't, in some form, heard before, many, many times.

The album itself remains exactly the same as it was in 1992. Nothing has changed. Crypto-ironic slacker rock has not found any more purchase in the lingua franca of American culture. The album was obscure when we first came upon it, and remains obscure upon revisiting. Join us as two of our Pavement junkies attempt to nail down that obscurity once and for all.

P: In the 41-page booklet that accompanies Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe, someone, maybe Stephen Malkmus, says that this strangled, under-hyped reissue of Pavement's genre-defining debut LP is targeted towards guys in their late 20s with enough disposable income to waste on an album they likely own already. I don't know how I feel about that, as a guy in my early 20s with the karmic neutrality sufficient to cadge a promotional copy of a record that I already own, but one that I didn't own until I was already almost done with high school. W?

W: Slanted was released when I was 12 and Pete was 11; I was beginning a love affair with R.E.M. and the Beach Boys and Pete, I believe, had recently discovered Metallica's Master of Puppets. To approach the significance of Slanted involves sharing how we came into the Pavement camp. I got my first CD player the year after it came out, along with Paul Simon: 1964-1993 and Automatic for the People. R.E.M. is a standard gateway band to Pavement, being equally cryptic yet more emotionally direct and thus more accessible. It wasn't until '99 that I purchased Brighten the Corners, Pavement's penultimate and most cohesive album, based on various references to it in the context of R.E.M. After that it was an inevitable journey back to Slanted by sophomore year, the point at which I became immersed.

P: In 1992 I was very much enamored with Master of Puppets and such things that are the only 1000 Homo DJs recording and Primus, which are not exactly gateways to Pavement. Strangely enough, Master of Puppets came out in 1986, and I didn't get into it until 1992, when Slanted & Enchanted came out, which I didn't get into until 1998. That's weird, no? I don't like the idea of a reissue of Slanted as much as I should, because I've only had four years to make my peace with the record. It makes roughly the same amount of sense as a reissue of Marquee Moon would have in 1987. And it's not like the record was hard to find: almost any normal, God-fearing independent record store had a copy or two of Slanted in its bins, thanks to Matador's death grip on their own dwindling cultural significance.

W: These things are true; it's not like we're terribly distant from Slanted, especially nu-indie kids like us. At the same time, however, it is the tenth anniversary, Nirvana is making pace towards their retrospective, and Matador is slipping behind the times as a label. If we're to generalize and use ourselves as Voices contributors to stand in for American music culture, why stop now? We're passing into a demographic/life stage in which Slanted is more vital than ever. Which is to say we're coming up on the age when Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg turned post-grad ennui into slacker suburban balladry, and Slanted is evolving from something good and pretty into something that was probably more meaningful than we thought it was at first. And if that takes 90 minutes of Pavement, then thank God for small blessings.

P: Trying to think of a polite way to say you're completely wrong… hmm… fuck it, you are wrong. I tend to shit on the importance of anniversaries in general, and I frankly am surprised that the members of Pavement aren't with me on this one, although I can't imagine they really thought about it all that much. I'm guessing Scott Kannberg was sitting at home on the couch when Chris Lombardi called and asked him if it was OK to reissue Slanted, and he put his sandwich down, thought how about where all the years had gone, and then said OK and got off the phone as quickly as possible, ate his sandwich, and read a magazine. Stephen Malkmus probably was on the other line with the NY Times Crossword tip line. About you being wrong: there is no ennui in Pavement. There was never anything like ennui in a Pavement song. The members of Pavement were and are, by the standards of society at large, well-adjusted. By the standards of indie rock music, Messrs. SM and Stairs and associates are the most normal people ever. They wore anoraks. They worked as museum guards. They are, like all good rock music, not to be taken seriously, and I resent that someone took them seriously enough to reissue a record. Let it go.

W: And that's exactly why they should be taken seriously. For the first time since, what, Buddy Holly? The Everly Brothers? we normal, adjusted, overeducated people had good musicians writing songs "about" us. Recall that Slanted broke the year after Nevermind. As good an album as that was, it was, I'd posit, less revolutionary than Slanted, which had the guts to narrow its emotional scope to the range of the well-adjusted. So much of rock has its basis in the fringes: Elvis as oversexed white boy in the black Gospel South, Dylan as dropout poet, the Velvet Underground as guys from good families discovering heroin, Nirvana as guys from bad families immersed in heroin. It's an album by and for people who smoke too much, occasionally drink too much, occasionally read too much, but do none of the above too much to frighten anyone. The beauty of Slanted, in the context of the college crowd, was to find its emotional power in a smaller space than is expected from the genre, small steps making giant sounds.

P: You're still incredibly wrong, except about Nevermind, which is only revolutionary in the sense that it moved a shitload of units. What's more, Nirvana amounts to a guy from a not-especially-bad-family, relatively speaking, doing heroin because he wanted to die and frankly, we're all better off without the guy in question. If we're going to start writing sentences that include the words "revolutionary" and "Pavement," either we're going to start talking about Crooked Rain, or we're going to start talking about the fact that Pavement once recorded a song about the Revolutionary War. YOU CANNOT TALK SERIOUSLY ABOUT PAVEMENT. They are really good, but at their core, at the core of all good rock music, is the caveat that it not be taken so goddamn seriously. Greil Marcus is a motherfucking dead man if he walks into this office. The beauty of Slanted & Enchanted is that it came out of nowhere, from literally the Walnut Capital of the World, was awesome, hung around for a while, then went back to the Walnut Capital of the World. All I have, all I want of Slanted & Enchanted is the 14 songs I already own. I appreciate the new shit that has come to light, but I like the old shit just fine, now that I think about it.

W: This I think we can agree on. Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe is probably not essential in any way, unless you're a Pavement genealogist. The only song on it that's not on Slanted or the Watery, Domestic EP that's absolutely staggering is the alternate mix of "Here," and it's mostly staggering because the original is so good; the fuzz guitar is an improvement, but it's not as if the original is insufficient. If there's something disappointing about the rerelease, it's that there's too much to distract from what's essential, which is Slanted & Enchanted. Oh, and in regards to taking rock music seriously, you do take it seriously whether you realize it or not, and not taking it seriously is, simply, a defense mechanism from the fact that we're all immersed in it. And that's the beauty of the rerelease, even if it's not ultimately worth buying unless you were going to before you read all this: a reminder of the genius of an album that snuck up on us.

P: It didn't sneak up on you. Somebody told you it was good and you checked it out of the library, motherfucker. Slanted, for our (yours and mine) intents AND purposes, belongs to us as much as fucking Blonde on Blonde, OK?