As we head towards the end of the century then, if the rumours are to be believed, we've just lost one of the most playful and inventive bands of the 90s. If indeed Pavement have indeed called it a day then 'Wowee Zowee' stands firm as the best idea of just what this band was about. It came hard on the heels of 'Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain' the bands second, more polished album which could have got them written a big cheque by a host of interested record companies. If indeed they'd been remotely interested. At the time regarded by some as a cowardly backstep, it now seems to instead be their best attempt to capture their raw live spirit, something not so evident of 1997s follow up 'Brighten The Corners'. What we have here are 18 tracks and, quite frankly, it's a bit of a mess and a bit all over the place. Even the most commited Pavement couldn't convince me that he loved ALL the tracks. That said there are some beautiful moments. Acoustic tinged opener 'We Dance' captures small town claustrophobia within its warm structures. Likewise, the opening chord change to 'Grounded' brings on a sense of melancholy wonderment and 'Father To A Sister Of Thought' taps a slightly psychedelic country-ish vein they were to further next time around. What stands out though on 'Wowee Zowee' is the will to take on a number of styles and make them convincing. 'Serpentine Pad' and 'Flux=Rad' show poise and noise in the same sort of measure that only 'Dirty'-era Sonic Youth carried off with equal aplomb. 'Rattled By The Rush' finds the inspired lyrical rambling of lead singer Steven Malkmus cast adrift amongs a bluesy storm kicked up by the band. Not always decipherable, Malkmus is inspired form when his voice emerges offering lyrical clues yet never tying his songs down to mundane specifics. Hence, 'Pueblo' could be about a hanging in Spanos County and the people that come out to watch, 'Grounded' could be about avaricious doctors in the States caring more about their savings than their patients and on 'Flux=Rad' is he really singing from the point of view of a vacuum cleaner? You can never be sure but its a fine way to spend some time. The credit shouldn't rest squarely Malkmus' shoulders either. Guitarist Scott Kannberg contributes two songs including the deceptively emotional and magnificent 'Kennel District'. They moved on from here culiminating in the folk roots rock of 'Terror Twilight' by which stage some said that they had chased themselves down a more retrospective and dated alleyway. That seems unfair. More albums like 'Wowee Zowee' would have been a betrayal of stronger, more fluid writing skills and would have showed a lesser spirit of adventure than characterised the band. But if you want to find out what being in this band seemed to be about, from a fans point of view and, one suspects, being a member of the band then 'Wowee Zowee' is that document.
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