Slanted and Enchanted is an important record in my life for many reasons. It's recent re-release in a two disc version with plenty of extras; the watery domestic e.p., some outtakes, two peel sessions and a live set, reminds me how much I loved Pavement and also how disappointing they ultimately became. I've been meaning to write something for a while tracing, how a band that started so strong wound up so appalling, and this seems like as good an opportunity as any. First the glory.
Slanted and Enchanted was released in 1992 during the peak of one of the United States' darkest musical periods, the grunge years. And so it was like a beacon in the night for one such as I who found grunge and all its related bands utterly unpalatable. I didn't hate Nirvana, actually at the time I did dislike them quite a bit, and have since grown to appreciate them as a decent pop band, but they most definitely didn't speak to or for me. Pavement did both. I identified with the sound and sentiments of this record completely.
Slanted sounded like the music I wished I could make, loose, obviously v.u. and fall inspired, noisy and distorted but with great pop songs underneath. It sounded casual, off the cuff and brilliant. Someone had a line about early Pavement lulling (or was it thrashing) around in a F. Scott Fitzgerald drunken haze, which captures this record's appeal perfectly. It's an effortless brilliance ('you think it's easy but you're wrong'). The title might be pretentious if it wasn't so fucking spot on. This isn't a direct record, things are delivered sideways and skewered, arch, ambiguous and irony tinged but at the same time with a huge amount of passion and urgency. It's a tangible passion even if not willing or able to commit to a direct expression, to direct terms, even if its unclear exactly what it's feeling so worked up about. It's also the reaching and grasping for expression of feelings for which words do not exist (unless maybe you're Jean Genet) that makes Slanted and Enchanted such a beautiful record and the absence of this passion and try which made their subsequent work alternately grating, boring, snotty or just plain bad.
This record managed to turn growing up stoned, white, american, middle class, suburban into a compelling and beautiful experience, and that's no small feat dad. 'Here' is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, perfect sound, perfect lyrics, perfect delivery. I don't know or can't precisely describe what it's about, I guess I'm not sure, but I know the feeling well. It captures all that's poignant and tingling in being a teenager doing nothing but driving around in the suburbs smoking grass with your friends while wishing and hoping something magic would happen, still thinking that life may be leading to some ultimate enlightenment or revelation. 'Zurich is Stained' has that same sorrow and regret for all the strength and hope dead and gone. The whole record is the sound of trying hard to care and find meaning though you know, intellectually at least, that everything is ultimately meaningless. And it has a sense of humor about this (what else can you have?) and everything else, including its over intellectualizing, perhaps the root of the problem. Mind divorcing oneself from body, creating the false mind/body dichotomy; see the white man clap out of time, if only I could feel something. Witness 'I've been waiting, anticipating, the sun comes up, the skies won't sink my soul, I've dreamt of this but it never comes' from the album's closer 'Our Singer'.
In the beginning ambiguity served Pavement well, it lent depth and levels of interpretation and allowed them to capture feelings, vague intuitions, without tying them to specific events or stories. The passion and feeling underlining it all made you want to listen and read things into the songs. Later, say round wowee zowee, this ambiguity started to sound more like a cop out. More like playing games for their own sake or cause if you let something slip and acted like you might be serious or care about something then you risked being a fool, or not looking cool. They never could outgrow their adolescent smirk, and the older they got and the longer they continued the more obvious and ugly it became, tired Geddy Lee jokes and all (that line in Here about 'your jokes are always bad' beomes prophetic and self-fulfilling). I mean that's why S.M. couldn't get to Kerouac right? Here's a guy (Ti-Jean) that didn't give a shit about playing the fool, the drunk, the artist, the mystic, the catholic, the bigot, the reactionary and maybe most importantly the sentimentalist. Kerouac cared about things and wasn't afraid to show it, S.M. was ultimately just scared, too caught up in his liberal art college background, too isolated by academia. I know the type, there's too many in my town.
I thought that this might go on a little longer. I thought I might get into more details about how things gradually changed and the magic was lost, the departure of Gary Young, the few bright spots on Wowee Zowee, but it doesn't seem necessary. I guess it's a lot clearer that I realized. If you allow me the indulgence of quoting one of my own songs 'if you don't care what you're singing about why should I give a fuck'. They stopped caring and so did I. Pick up the new Slanted and Enchanted for the sound of Pavement when both of those words still applied to them. If you already have it pick up the new one for the extra stuff which is great, particularly the live set at Brixton Academy.
© 2002 William Crain