There’s a record shop joke that the best bands never release “Best Ofs”, and great pleasure was once to be had from rebuffing teenagers sloping in and asking for the Best Of Metallica or The Best Of AC/DC. But my, how things have changed on Walton’s mountain when we have the pioneers of Gen X hipster cool banging out a Best Of to coincide with a reunion tour. It’s all a little bit too much like The Eagles.
However, with the benefit of hindsight, Quarantine The Past, a retrospective of Pavement’s work, is not only a good thing, it also makes perfect sense. Either way, once the still-shimmeringly perfect ‘Gold Soundz’ kicks in, it’s hard not to be completely and utterly sold. It’s a Best Of of epic proportions. While the band’s sound was and always will be the benchmark against which all lo-fi records will be held, the selection of tunes here is expansive and sublime, and, in truth, they’ve never sounded better.
It has to be said that the tracklisting was impeccably selected. The cheeky, louche pop of ‘Stereo’, ‘Cut Your Hair’ and ‘Shady Lane’ is offset by the shambolic hopefulness of ‘In The Mouth A Desert’ and the punkish ‘Debris Slide’. It’s evident that the genius of Pavement’s music not only lies in their aptitude at drawing out a tune from the most unlikely of places and giving you just enough but never too much, but also in Stephen Malkmus’s sometimes nonsensical snippets of lyrics, hinting at a deeper meaning but never really going anywhere (see basically any song here, but in particular ‘Fight This Generation’ and ‘Heaven Is A Truck’).
While a song like ‘Here’ may as well be Nada Surf for all its references to Americana and punchy waves of fuzzy guitar, there’s something about how Malkmus yowls into a croon that grabs you everytime. The achingly flawless ‘Spit On A Stranger’ could have been written for The OC’s soundtrack, and ‘Trigger Cut’ is as life affirmingly catchy and amateurish as ever. Listening to Pavement’s albums chronologically, the difference between each one is palpable, but for some reason, the chopping and changing and jumping works here, and going from ‘Summer Babe’ to ‘Range Life’ makes perfect sense. Even if there are some glaring omissions from the Pavement canon, the choices made on Quarantine are immaculate.
Pavement have always occupied a space somewhere between classic indie perfection and total freak-out sonic fuzz jam, which inevitably means that as a band, they can be a struggle for the unacquainted (which probably explains some of their popularity as a college rock band). But here they are, packaged and streamlined in all their chaotic glory. It’s hard to express how important it is for those unacquainted to hear this album. Please get stuck in.