Underappreciated Album of the Month: UAM #7 (Pavement – Wowee Zowee, 1996)

Pavement

With this DOA feature that has been re-vamped, last seen in 1993, we focus our attention on an album that may not have the recognition or notoriety it deserves. It might be a cult hit, it might be a small favorite or it might even be an album that is just so great, we feel it needs all of the attention possible. Albums chosen will always be, at least, more than five years old and will be chosen at our own discretion and hey, if you feel there is an underappreciated gem you wish could get some exposure, feel free to let us know.

This wasn’t the classic rock that glittered itself over the neatly collected twelve tracks on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain; no, instead it was an assorted collection of miscellaneous sounds that all found their ways onto a spontaneous, stirring, eighteen-song, near hour-long journey. And while many have tried to pinpoint what lead Pavement into such new experimentation, the end result was Wowee Zowee’s incredibly glorious music. It was the kind of music you could get excited for and the kind of music that you could take hours, upon hours, just trying to figure out and like the title’s inspiration, yelling for joy is always a great thing.

Besides the fact that “Motion Suggests” is one of the most bitterly lovely, emotional jabs of guitar rock I’ve probably ever heard, there is magic all over. Hearing Stephen Malkmus sing, “No I won’t need someone to let me be,” before fading away into his scorching guitar solo is one of my favorite memories from when I first heard the album and I remember just melting away to it. Back in 1995, music still seemed like something unattainable, like something I could never fully understand. I’m still not much better than I was but after you hear the ensuing memorable guitar shuffle of “Father to a Sister of Thought,” everything just sort of washes away. Maybe that’s what everyone means when they call it ‘slacker rock,’ but either way, there was always so much more going than just laid-back rock.

Pavement - Wowee Zowee

Malkmus was a fantastic wordsmith that enabled his playful demeanor into his own singing. There’s the emphasis on each syllable on “Rattled by the Rush” and lines like “I’m drowning for your thirst” to begin with and later, on “Half a Canyon,” Malkmus channels his inner Osbourne with a gnarly, smoke-filled banister of grunge. The epic jam at the end – and those screeches – drives the penultimate song as the album’s lengthiest endeavor into the high soars Pavement was known for. And there was always the quirky trademark touches that Malkmus was known for, like his “Chim chim chim sing a song of praise” on the downright perfect “We Dance.”

Where every one of their other albums were always about a great range of sounds (the back-to-back slam of “5 – 4 = Unity” and “Range Life” remains as my personal favorite Pavement moment) Wowee Zowee pushed the spectrum even outward, with a varied sound that to this day, continues to astonish. Whether it’s the brilliantly harsh rock of “Flux = Rad,” to the transcendent guitar balladry of “Grounded,” or even just the entirely surprising reflective aforementioned opener – that above all, starts with Malkmus singing, “There is no castration fear” before gently asking, “Maybe we can dance together?” – Pavement never made an album as diverse as this one.

Just being varied isn’t what makes it so absorbing either. It’s underrated mostly because it follows the towering masterpieces and significant works that are Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and I guess fans didn’t dig the swirling new spirals they were exploring. And although many have attempted to go back and re-evaluate it, I’ve even seen lists that have Brighten the Corners ahead of Wowee Zowee. There is no doubt that everything Pavement did as a band is gold but in terms of sheer exceptional musicianship and an engrossing skill at being able to craft gripping songs like the ominously tension-filled “Grave Architecture,” this album takes the cake.

It’s a special album for a tremendous amount of reasons but above all, it deserves a lot more attention. There willl never be another band like them and slacker or not, Malkmus was the king of indie rock in the 90s, with Wowee Zowee maintaining a spot in Pavement’s outstanding discography; fittingly so, right smack in the middle.

Matador