Smart Alecks

Pavement battles the growing impression that it's too clever for its own good

The breakthrough of Crooked Rain caused some swollen heads in the Pavement camp, at least according to Kannberg. When it is suggested that the band's follow-up, the much-maligned Wowee, evokes the reckless sprawl of messy masterworks like the Clash's Sandinista!, Kannberg agrees, adding: "Yeah, they thought their shit didn't stink." Apparently, Pavement, too, thought its poop smelled like patchouli.

"I think we did think that," Kannberg says. "Crooked Rain was pretty successful for us, and I think we thought, 'Hey, we can just put anything out. People will buy it. People will like it.'"

Half of Wowee's 18 tracks were recorded at Easley Studios in Memphis. The other half, however, were thrown together in New York under rushed circumstances. The result was an album of overlooked beauty (the countryish "Father to a Sister of Thought"), but also padded out with freestyle nonsense like "Best Friends Arm" and "Fight This Generation." It wasn't quite Malkmus' Self Portrait, but it wasn't Blonde on Blonde, either.

As confident as Pavement may seem to its fans, Kannberg says the members weren't immune to the shots they took with Wowee. "It affected us," he says. "We didn't make the same mistake [again]. There's a lot of good songs there, but it's like 10 great songs and eight B-sides on it."

The biggest obstacle to Pavement's creative future has long been that its five members litter nearly every corner of the country. Malkmus lives in Portland, Oregon; Kannberg in Berkeley, California; West in Lexington, Virginia; bassist Mark Ibold in Los Angeles; and percussionist Bob Nastanovich in Louisville, Kentucky. Because they usually only get a couple of weeks' rehearsal time before recording an album, it's important for them to find a comfortable recording environment that allows them time to absorb the material. For their most recent release, this year's Brighten the Corners, they found that environment in North Carolina with former R.E.M. producer--and Let's Active leader--Mitch Easter.

"It was great," Kannberg says of recording at Easter's house. "My vote would be for us to do the next record there. He's just a mellow guy, but he's really enthusiastic about music. His biggest contribution was he had tons of instruments, different devices to use. He didn't really produce it or anything."

Although reaction to Brighten the Corners was slightly blase--a good album, but nothing new--the album holds up over repeated listenings nearly as well as Slanted and Crooked Rain did. Malkmus retains his seemingly effortless ability to throw out a clever turn of phrase, such as this gem from the single "Shady Lane": "You've been chosen as an extra in the movie adaptation of the sequel to your life."

Perhaps the novelty has simply worn off for critics, or maybe the band is getting karmic comeuppance for poking fun at Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots with the 1994 song "Range Life." But most likely, some just sense that the band is too cool to break an emotional sweat. Beavis and Butt-head captured this viewpoint when they trashed the band's "Rattled by the Rush" video, infuriated because Pavement "aren't even trying" to sound good.

Kannberg doesn't sound like someone who thinks his band is too brilliant for the masses. In fact, when questioned about the possibility of platinum-size commercial acceptance, he pleads humility.

"We're not a good enough band to be that successful yet, to play to 10,000 people," he says. "We could do that at a festival, but every night, like Bush does, I don't think we're that together as a band yet. And that to us would be successful, to get to that point. We're still in the double-A league."

And what does he make of the major-league target that Pavement seems to be for September 67? Kannberg responds with characteristic Pavement phlegmatism.

"I haven't even heard it," Kannberg says of the song. "But it's pretty funny. I'm glad it's not 'Scott Kannberg Is a Fucking Snob.'"

Pavement is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, September 23, at Gibson's in Tempe, with the Geraldine Fibbers. Showtime is 8 p.m.

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