Pavement were always a brilliantly awkward bunch and apparently remain so, having picked a very peculiar selection of tracks for this compilation, released to tie in with their imminent reformation tour, but overdue nonetheless.
Stephen Malkmus and co were simply too good a band for Quarantine the Past to actively flounder, but its early stages really are surprisingly hard work. Or maybe not that surprising, given that after propulsive opener Gold Soundz (the title track of sorts, featuring as it does the line “you can never quarantine the past”) the album lurches straight into abrasive non-album rarities Frontwards and Mellow Jazz Docent. They’re decent enough tracks, but they’re hardly the band’s finest hour, and the wryly anthemic blast of Stereo sounds a tad beleaguered when it comes round at track four, not nearly so effective as occupying pole position on 1997’s Brighten the Corners.
Even more bizarre, though, is the fact that at the seventh song – Cut Your Hair, Malkmus’s peerlessly snide ode to the MTV generation – Quarantine the Past suddenly decides to do what Best Ofs are supposed to do: present a varied, enjoyable and commercially minded selection of tracks communicating the artist’s greatness. In short order we get the sighingly pretty Shady Lane/Jay vs. S, the gorgeous shoegaze chug of Summer Babe (Winter Version) and the elegiac Range Life, aka the best country rock song about supporting grunge bands on tour, ever. Interspersed are a handful of album tracks that thoroughly vindicate Pavement’s towering reputation: the sorrowful Here, proto-Strokes roar of Unfair, heat-haze blur of Grounded, and guitarist Scott Kannburg’s rousing Date w/IKEA. Hit single Carrot Rope is an undeniably baffling omission, but you can forgive that when the final rarity is fan favourite The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence, Malkmus’s brilliantly mad ode to the early works of REM.
All-in-all, it’s a bizarre track sequencing, reading more like a gig setlist than an introduction to Pavement – but it scarcely seems credible that they’re going to play all these same songs every night on a six-month world tour. Still, it all clicks into gear by the end, and it perhaps bodes well that they appear to have worked out how to finish things on a high. --Andrzej Lukowski
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window