#9: Slanted And Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe by Pavement
My Bloody Valentine may have released the magnum opus of the 90’s but the best band of the 90’s was Pavement for being perhaps the only group to release 3 stone cold classics in the decade. Their first, Slanted And Enchanted, is their best but even better than that incredible album is the deluxe edition of the album (titled Luxe & Reduxe) which was released 10 years later. Rarely has a band’s vaults been plummed so opulently and never have they yielded such successful results as this sprawling 2-disc 48-track set. The “bonus material” is so good that it’s hard to tell where the original album leaves off and the extras start. Incredibly I have only identified 2 or 3 filler tracks at a push (EP straggler “Lions (Linden)” and the repetitive John Peel session instrumental “Drunks With Guns”).
First off the album is packaged in its entire original sequence and then come songs that were left on the cutting room floor (probably only for reasons of run-time constraints), then the first and more excellent of two great John Peel sessions featuring seemingly tossed-off gems and even a Silver Jews cover. Then the second disc features contemporary EP Watery, Domestic in its entirety plus its own superior set of outtakes. These are some of the only recordings of the original line-up of the band as a 5-piece other than early sessions recorded for Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain that were abandoned when they got a new drummer. Keep in mind that the original album and its outtakes were recorded by a 3-piece version of the band made up of Stephen Malkmus, Scott Kannberg, and Gary Young. Mark Ibold and Bob Nastanovich would be later additions. Then you have another John Peel session and to top it all off selections from a contemporary show they performed at Brixton Academy.
It’s something else to hear the lo-fi debut in all its glory. The guitars often sound like they’re coming out of a portable radio- a move I think Weezer cribbed for their hit “Say It Ain’t So.” The songs take on a whole new energy live, though, with everything suddenly coming to giant-sized life. It also seems Malkmus could not hide his enthusiasm for the tracks as they burned through much of the album because much of the time he replaces his disaffected delivery with notable yelling and even octave-higher singing. Scott Kannberg also sounds supercharged on rhythm guitar, completely turning “Summer Babe” into a comping tour-de-force.
Again, it’s interesting to think of how well the “bonus material” stacks up against the album. Extras “Baptist Blacktick” and “So Stark (You’re A Skyscraper)” both match or beat the best material on their respective releases. And to think of “Circa 1762” or “Kentucky Cocktail” as after-thoughts is almost ridiculous. Nevertheless what ended up on the album is what you have. “Here” was recorded at a different studio than their home turf at this point, Gary Young’s Louder Than You Think studio. They might have realized this wasn’t the right direction to be headed in because it’s the only track recorded elsewhere.
“Trigger Cut / Wounded Kite At :17” follows up “Summer Babe” perfectly, Malkmus seemingly unable to care about singing the melody “properly.” In fact, Malkmus often sings so far outside of tune that the whole thing is jarring at first, but once you get used to it it feels right as rain. “No Life Singed Her” follows and then perhaps the album’s high point “In The Mouth A Desert”, which follows a perfectly placed chord progression and one of the great vocal melodies of the 90’s. I think matters of personnel are under contention but I can’t help but think it’s Scott Kannberg playing the distinctive and unforgettable bassline on this track. “Zurich Is Stained” rides a sweet slide guitar and features the added brains of pulling its chutes early and follow-up track “Chesley’s Little Wrists” plays as the perfect interlude before “Loretta’s Scars” which rocks back and forth like a boat. “Two States”, a Scott Kannberg track, was about as punk as the album would get while “Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era” would never see the band more funky and “Our Singer” closed on an unusually minimalist note for a record that showed such brilliance in its arrangements.
The whole package stands as an excellent reflection of a sustained high of their career, both more fully realized than their first three EP’s (even when you combine them as with Westing (By Musket and Sextant)) and more consistent than their next two albums even if the 1.5-disc Wowee Zowee came pretty close. And neither of the next two albums’ deluxe editions would even hold a candle to this one. Stephen Malkmus’s next band, Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks, would go on after the demise of Pavement sounding more professional but there was a mysterious magic residing within Pavement and it shines most brilliantly here from the songs to the brilliant lo-fi production.