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Issue: March 1997
Brighten the Corners (Matador)

How can it be that a band with this much indie credibility can be so shamelessly nostalgic? Gawd, Pavement drips with it -- nostalgia for real or imagined family homes, past loves, and most of all, classic rock. Seventies rock. Guitar rock. AOR, flick the Bic lighter, tie a bandanna around your thigh rock. The music on Brighten the Corners has both subtle and overt tones of the Rock Music We've Grown Up To. And the lyrics to a few songs, most notably "Shady Lane," are just as nostalgic as the music.

Yet Pavement is still underground cool. Stephen Malkmus sings in a manner that no parent is likely to appreciate, sometimes tuneless, occasionally screaming, always smart-alecky. And while Pavement favors the wide dynamic range that has been in vogue since Nirvana sang verses and roared through choruses, they don't give off the aura of stealing like some other post-alternative groups. Malkmus' intentional obliqueness strikes a chord with anyone aged 18 to 35, though the lyrics are disjointed enough to allow free interpretation. Just what does he mean by "Focus on the quasar in the mist/The kaiser has a cyst/And I'm a blank want list" (in "Stereo")? You might not know exactly, but you -- strangely enough -- get the general idea.

The five-piece band simply rocks out on a few tunes, most notably "Embassy Row." "We Are Underused," blatantly hooky with an anthem-like sing-along at the end, shows one of Pavement's many faces, and the following song, "Passat Dream," illustrates how they fit in today's music scene, with a funky drum beat working underneath a ringing chord and backing vocals "oooing" it up. Extremely accessible. For that matter, "Shady Lane" could take alternative radio by storm, given half a chance.

If there's a fallacy at work here, it's that Pavement is doing something new or cutting edge. True enough, they sound like no one else out there, but they've sounded this way for several albums now. Mitch Easter's influence in the studio only makes the Pavement sound more clear and identifiable. Brighten the Corners is a good album, but Pavement fans may be drumming their fingers. Once upon a time, Pavement broke new ground. Since then, they have been building on the same accomplishments. The results -- four good albums -- have been impressive. But can we expect more from them now?

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