Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (Matador)

Pavement

By Bob Bahr

There are two ways a rebel can change the establishment: by railing from the outside and pushing for a full-scale rebellion, or by infiltrating and changing from within. With Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Pavement seems to be choosing the latter.

Yes, there are some dissonant passages, and yeah, the lyrics are too shifty and subversive to conform to the establishment. But pop this one in, and the opening chords may remind you more of Abbey Road than Primus. This is dangerously close to being an Establishment record.

Pavement gets down to the root of the issue on "Range Life," a bright, acoustic-based number that wobbles alternative-like in the instrumental portion. Stephen Malkmus' vocals chase emotion instead of technique in the time-honored tradition of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, capturing the world-weary tone of the lyrics. On the creative fringes of alternative music, band longevity can be shorter than that of a mayfly; already Pavement seems tired of the business, pining ironically for a "range life, so I can settle down."

Or is that chorus just more lethal sarcasm like the kind that aim at the Smashing Pumpkins and the Stone Temple Pilots in one particularly nasty lyrical passage? If Pavement ever does pack it in for a more grounded lifestyle, the band members themselves will laugh harder than anyone else at the picture in the mirror: post-punks with a fatal sentimental streak.

Their sentimentality is a brand of musical nostalgia as well. Witness the big, anthem-like feel of "Fillmore Jive," the early alternative leanings of "Elevate Me Later" and the swing parody of "5-4= Unity." Pavement's most obvious contemporary influence is Sonic Youth "Unfair" simply wouldn't exist without that band. Perhaps "Hit the Plane Down" is informed by the music of the Pixies, too.

But Pavement is more like the hick/hip alternative group Cracker than those bands, mostly because it embraces earthy roots. Their music therefore has more resonance to these Mid-South ears than bands who only seem at home in a dark alternative club with black walls and ceilings. Pavement is a band that crosses over from pure alternative into several other styles.

Listen to "Cut Your Hair" and you'll hear it not so much alternative music, not even remotely punk music, but modern rock. Pavement has bridged the gap between mainstream and alternative, in the process creating an album with an attitude, and one that is catchy as hell.