1994's Crooked Rain Crooked Rain crystallizes a time when bands could get by just fine playing for beer money and sleeping on floors, just before the alternative revolution turned this world inside out. It brushed Pavement up against the mainstream the first and only time they did so thanks to minor radio hit "Cut Your Hair" and Stephen Malkmus' lyrical jabs at Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots, but within the ever-insular college-radio community, it was an unqualified smash. More cohesive and accessible than debut LP Slanted and Enchanted, it lives on in patches of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Radiohead's "National Anthem," which cribs its buzzing riff wholesale from "Hit the Plane Down." (It also struck a huge diminished chord locally, inspiring a long list of bands, including Fivehead, Okkervil River, Moonlight Towers, and Zykos.) Malkmus is Oscar Wilde in a CBGB shirt, a heavy-lidded poet of band life for whom no detail is too minor, no aside too superfluous. His perpetual bemusement with music-industry machinations drives the album. Raucous "Unfair" is a sarcastic small-town take on the L.A. scene, "Cut Your Hair" a pristine send-up of indie stereotypes, and "Gold Soundz" glitters on the memorable line, "So drunk in the August sun, and you're the kind of girl I like." No matter what they're playing at any given moment moseying country on "Range Life," despondent fuzz on "Fillmore Jive," assertive jangle-rock on "Elevate Me Later" Malkmus' laid-back bandmates are reliably in the pocket. (Check groovy Dave Grusin fan letter "5 4 = Unity.") The second disc of bonus tracks all 36 of them! is predictably unpredictable, gems like "Raft," "Kennel District," and "Fucking Righteous" strewn among outtakes, alternates, and goofs. "It's a brand-new era, but I came too late," drolls Malkmus on the whispery "Newark Wilder." Almost. Now, as then, Crooked Rain Crooked Rain arrives just in time.
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