Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pavement- Brighten The Corners: Nicene Creedence Edition

For a lot of bands, the ten year mark is the time when they start to look around and question what they're doing. There's a palpable sense of momentum running out. Maybe the muse stops coming as often as she did. Maybe they just get tired of being around the same people all the time. Whatever the case is, the band members are ten years older, too, and those kind of milestones make you question everything around you. I'm about two months away from turning 25--a quarter century old, yeesh--and I was just talking to a longtime friend last night about the past. Through a haze of scotch and nostalgia, I remember telling her that I live my life in the present and the past; the future is a terrifying unknown to me.

These are all the kind of things I think about when I listen to Brighten The Corners. In my review of the non-deluxe edition of the album I said that "[i]t's Pavement's most mature album in many ways, from the mostly mannered songs and arrangements to the lyrical subjects that frequently mention marriage, growing old, and changes in general." Writing about the album those months ago I was looking forward to the forthcoming reissue to give me some more context for it, to maybe help me appreciate it better. Well, my feeling about the original Brighten The Corners remains the same. It's Pavement's weakest album and their least interesting. But the extra material included here is worth discussing for two reasons:

1) It is much more rambunctious and messy than the album
2) It represents the beginning of the end of Pavement

If you pre-ordered the so-called Nicene Creed Edition of Brighten The Corners, it came with an unreleased live album on vinyl. Since it was such a limited release and doesn't come with every copy I won't get into it too greatly. I wish it had been included with every copy of the album, though, since it's so good. Despite the scattered live songs on the other deluxe reissues and the shows on the Slow Century DVD, we've never been given a good snapshot of live Pavement pre-'99. Wherever this show was recorded in Europe in '97, the versions of the songs played on it are loose and fun, again hinting that sometimes Pavement's loose and sloppy approach to shows could produce brilliance. As for the extras included on the 2 CD set, well, they're spotty at best.

The most confusing aspect of this reissue to me, initially, was that a good deal of the b-sides and outtakes included here date from the Terror Twilight era. What I've since realized is that--and this gets into the second point I wanted to make--the band were already beginning to dissolve at this point. The two best extras on the first CD--'And Then (The Hexx)' and 'Harness Your Hopes'--come from b-sides from the single for 'Spit On A Stranger', which is from the Terror Twilight album. Was the band so starved for material that they dug back into the Corners sessions?? It seems so. This is made clearer by the general poorness of the other outtakes and b-sides. 'Westie Can Drum' and 'Roll With The Wind' are fun but rough, reminding one of the Wowee Zowee era.

The second CD flies off the rails entirely, showing Pavement at their best and worst. 'Slowly Typed' is an interesting, country romp version of 'Type Slowly' while 'Cherry Area' is a frustrating, stuttering, and apathetic electro-grind alternate version of 'Embassy Row.' Meanwhile, the four covers range in quality from good to pointless ('The Killing Moon' is good, 'Oddity' is decent synth-pop, 'It's A Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl' and 'The Classical' are only worth a single listen). Of the remainder, only the "psych" into to 'Embassy Row', a jammy live take on 'Type Slowly', and the playful 'Grave Architecture' are revelatory. One assumes they were serious about the 'clearing the vaults' idea by including the two versions of the band's attempt to "play" the Space Ghost "theme", because only hardcore fans like your's truly would be patient enough to sit through five minutes of Pavement flailing around and making noise.

I can't help coming away from this deluxe edition feeling disappointed. But I think most of that has to do with my expectations and not the product. I wanted something more, I guess, than the usual lot of b-sides, outtakes, and live material. For what it's worth, the essay included in the booklet is unnecessary and useless, especially compared to the other reissues, which had decent essays and/or notes from the band members. And I guess that lies at the heart of why I find this whole package a let down. Brighten The Corners has always struck me as not particularly interesting and the bonus material included here is a mess, not up to the general quality of previous reissues. Really the best thing about it is the live album but you had to pre-order it and have a way of playing a vinyl record to enjoy it. But I digress...

The Nicene Creed edition of Brighten The Corners is currently available for only two dollars more than the standard edition on Even the most casual Pavement fan will find the extra disc-and-a-half of bonus material worth that kind of money. Yet I still have reservations about the album itself. You can read my in-depth take on it elsewhere, but suffice it to say that a three star album with a mixed bag of extra material only gets bumped up to four at best. This is really more of quantity over quality thing, but if you're a fan of the band it's worth it. And I can't wait to see what they do for the inevitably reissue of Terror Twilight in a year or two...

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