Brighten the Corners: Nicene Creedence Edition

Rating: 4.0

Label: Matador

As music fans, we’ve been conditioned to approach reissues with a healthy degree of skepticism. A label sexes up a landmark album, maybe one that you played at your wedding or that still reminds you of the time you lost your virginity in the pet cemetery, by adding a few scratchy demos, inferior outtakes, concert droppings, digital remastering, and “original artwork.” For many music obsessives the lure of these unearthed treasures is too strong to resist; for the truly unlucky, a few years later that album is again repackaged with a few additional songs that could have been included on the original reissue, and foisted upon the masses for another quick cash grab. I’m looking in your direction, Mr. Costello, and please no more new editions of My Aim Is True or This Year’s Model.

The Matador label’s approach in reissuing the back catalog of indie heavyweight Pavement has been far more enlightened. With each original release expanded into two discs consisting of the original songs plus demos, outtakes, b-sides, radio sessions, and live performances, along with liner notes and packaging, this reissue campaign has offered listeners an expansive snapshot of the band at each phase of its history.

Though the band’s legacy is usually staked to debut album Slanted and Enchanted and second release Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Matador’s reissue series has offered a pleasant opportunity to re-evaluate the band’s later, allegedly inferior albums. The label’s recent release of an expanded Wowee Zowee served as a reminder of how wonderfully sloppy and erratic that genre-hopping album still is.

The latest Pavement album to get the reissue treatment is 1997’s Brighten the Corners. For the most part, it’s aged very well, at least certainly better than Wowee Zowee. And though it might constitute indie heresy, I actually still find it more interesting and listenable than the supposedly untouchable Crooked Rain, which I will vehemently always maintain has several horrific songs on it (when’s the last time you listened to “Newark Wilder” or “Fillmore Jive” without getting bored or skipping to the next track?).

Produced by Mitch Easter, Brighten the Corners still sounds cohesive, humorous and incredibly sarcastic. It’s slower and more musically reserved than the band’s previous albums; the random explosions of noise and Stephen Malkmus’s screaming found on songs like “Chesley’s Little Wrists” or “No Life Singed Her” is mostly absent. Singles like the sardonic “Shady Lane” and the dissonant “Stereo” still rank among the band’s best work, while other songs like “Date With Ikea,” “Transport Is Arranged,” and “Type Slowly” show the band was also able to craft nice melodies in their more laid back moments. If this reissue confirms anything, it’s that there’s not a boring song to be found on the album.

Of course the real question surrounding any reissue is whether the bonus material necessitates another purchase by fans who have already shelled out money for the original album; this question becomes even more relevant given the current shithole economy we’re all mired in. Quite simply, this reissue is more jammed up than a constipated septuagenarian. And that’s a good thing. Disc one is rounded out with a number of b-sides and a couple unreleased songs from the Brighten the Corners sessions; of these, “Westie Can Drum” is the choice cut and features some real hardcore screaming from Malkmus.

The second disc is a Pavement fan’s wet dream. It starts with four songs that comprised the b-sides to “Shady Lane,” all of which would have fit nicely on the album. This disc also includes selections from various 1997 radio sessions for the BBC, the venerable “Morning Becomes Eclectic” show and John Peel. The MBE songs feature the band in full-on aggression mode, especially on “Maybe Maybe” and the Faust cover song “It’s a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl,” while the Peel session includes a cover of The Fall’s “The Classical” that amazingly doesn’t blow. The disc is rounded out with a few other odds and ends, most notably a live version of “Type Slowly” and a cover version of Echo & the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon.”

Though some fickle fans will probably find flaws with this release – certainly a few more live songs or even a full concert similar to what was done for the repackaged Slanted and Enchanted would have been welcome – Matador’s latest Pavement reissue is essential listening for both longtime fans as well as those younger affluent suburban kids just starting to get in touch with their angst and slackerdom. Other record labels and artist would be well served to follow this example.

by Eric Whelchel

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