For a band associated with the “slacker” craze of the 1990s, Pavement recorded an astonishing number of songs in their decade-long existence. Über-fans often declare the band’s third full-length, Wowee Zowee, to be their finest moment—if not because it’s Pavement’s weirdest record, than almost certainly because it’s the longest. Plowing through 18 songs and nearly as many genres like The White Album on whippets, Wowee is an ungodly album with the band’s finest and weakest songs portioned out in equal measure; Pavement would never again be as transcendent as “Grounded,” nor would they be as dull as “Fight This Generation.”
There are fewer new or unearthed tracks on the Wowee reissue than there were on the spectacular Slanted And Enchanted and Crooked Rain Crooked Rain reissues, but this set captures Pavement at their most prolific and unrestrained, compiling the essential b-sides, soundtrack cuts, and bootlegs from the band’s “difficult” period (and they were always more than a little difficult). Pavement made excellent albums, but they made even better EPs; Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition includes the terrific Pacific Trim EP and the “Rattled By The Rush” and “Father To A Sister Of Thought” singles—which nearly rank alongside the band’s short masterpiece Watery Domestic—as well as fascinatingly cursory sessions for the BBC and Australia’s Wireless JJJ Radio.
Pavement’s songs are incredibly well captured on record, meaning the live tracks on the Slanted, Crooked, and Wowee deluxe editions display what a train wreck of a stage act they were. Take “Golden Boys,” here mashed up in a medley with the explosive Rancid-baiting “Serpentine Pad” for a late-night BBC session. The band fights and resists every note of the song’s gorgeous melody: the guitars lurch, the drums stumble, and Stephen Malkmus begrudgingly drawls the lyrics while Spiral Stairs screams them in chorus in the background. “Golden Boys” is not so-bad-it’s-good like the Godz and it’s not good-played-badly like Sid Vicious’s “My Way”; it’s an entrancing, calculated disaster, as if Isadora Duncan wrote a rock song.
But Pavement was more important as a rock band than as a post-modern performance piece, and the highlights on Sordid Sentinels are the songs Pavement fans know and love performed the way we already knew and loved them. Here’s the band’s gleeful rewiring of the Schoolhouse Rock! tune “No More Kings”! Here’s “Painted Soldiers” from the Brain Candy soundtrack! With Sordid Sentinels you get the joy of Pavement’s top-shelf rarities without the hassle of tracking them down. There’s been blog chatter of a Pavement reunion lately, but if any band could do without one, it’s Pavement, having left behind a prodigious discography to discover and rediscover over and over again.