To date myself, I remember the release of every Pavement album (barring the first singles and the Perfect Sound Forever EP). I remember the youthful enthusiasm as my not yet jaded ears were blown away by Slanted and Enchanted in 1992 and my indifference to 1994's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (which was corrected by its 2004 reissue). And I remember absolutely loving 1995's Wowee Zowee.
Now Wowee Zowee gets the same lavish treatment those earlier records have received, an extras-packed double-disc reissue with a massive liner-notes booklet. As what was probably the last great Pavement record -- a nice snapshot of a heady time for indie rock and the beginning of the end for this band -- it earns the royal treatment.
Recorded in Memphis at Easley-McCain Studios, Wowee Zowee replaced Crooked Rain's country-musings and worship of Mark E. Smith and the Fall with disjointed pop, great pop, '70s white avant blues, and blips of punk aggression. It's almost as if the band knew that the world might get sick of them -- that there was nothing to be done about that possible inevitability -- and just threw everything on the table. Wowee Zowee is still a stronger album than its predecessor, though that assessment was quieted slightly when it was revealed that some of Wowee's strongest tracks ("Grounded," "Flux = Rad") started life as prospects for Crooked Rain. "Grounded," along with "Kennel District," are the distinct pop that Pavement did best, a style almost avoided entirely on Crooked Rain.
Though the curious, the fans, and curious fans should give Wowee Zowee the first or second chance it deserves, it's the bonus material that will be a deciding factor. Naturally, all of the seven-inch B-sides are here, including "Mussle Rock" (B side to "Father to a Sister of Thought"), a song so Pavement-perfect it boggles the mind as to why it failed to make the album proper. Elsewhere, "Sensitive Euro Man," a couple of outtakes, and Pavement's contribution to a Descendents tribute album lead up to some BBC sessions and energetic cuts from a show in Australia.
Wowee Zowee closed a trilogy of Pavement releases that stands on its own as an audio textbook of how indie rock was done correctly in the early-to-mid '90s. -- Andrew Earles