KEITH A. GORDON
was, without a doubt, one of the most interesting and influential bands of the
1990s. The band’s so-called “slacker aesthetic,” distinctive lo-fi
sound, and the songwriting genius of frontman/guitarist Stephen Malkmus made
Pavement the flag-bearers for the decade’s indie-rock revolution. The band
released five brilliant albums over the course of a decade, each experiencing
varying encouraging levels of sales, but with their 1995 album Wowee Zowee, Pavement created the kind
of classic album that often outshines a band’s legacy.
time of its release, Wowee Zowee confused and infuriated fans and critics alike. Although the album’s material
didn’t veer far from the musical blueprint that Pavement had written with Slanted and Enchanted, the band’s
phenomenal 1992 debut, or 1994’s Crooked
Rain, Crooked Rain, the 1995 album’s expanded number of songs and
shotgun-blast style of incorporating disparate elements of folk, country, and
jazz music into Pavement’s typical rock ‘n’ roll chaos was met with tentative
elation by the band’s hardcore fans.
writer Bryan Charles among those who were initially underwhelmed by the charms
of Wowee Zowee. As he outlines in his
insightful, highly personal account of the album – one of Continuum’s
wonderfully entertaining 33 1/3 book series – it was a couple of years after
the album’s release before he really gave Wowee
Zowee a fair listen, at which time it “went through me like a blast of
pure light.” It became Charles’ favorite album, its complex and textured
musical and lyrical construction revealing new secrets with each hearing.
Charles approaches his book on the album with the serious intent of the music
journalist and the gleeful abandon of the adoring fanboy. In creating his
narrative on the album, Charles rounded up interviews with all of the major
players, from band members Stephan Malkmus, Scott Kannberg (a/k/a “Spiral
Stairs”), Mark Ibold, Bob Nastanovich, and Steve West to Chris Lombardi of
Matador Records, Warner Music exec Danny Goldberg, Memphis studio engineer Doug
Easley, and album cover artist Steve Keene. In lively prose, Charles manages to
paint a detailed portrait of the making of this classic album that juxtaposes
his own ruminations on the work with the memories and opinions of those
involved in its making.
form, the notoriously curmudgeonly Gerard Cosloy of Matador provided Charles a
non-interview, answering his considered questions by email with nonsensical non
sequiturs and unnerving hipster bullshit. In retrospect, Charles would have
been better off holding a séance with the hellbound spirit of Cosloy’s old
buddy G.G. Allin to ask him his opinion of Wowee
Zowee. Cosloy’s insulting lack of effort rattled Charles’ confidence and
almost derailed the project; luckily Charles carried on and managed to pull an
engaging story out of his other interviewees, even if some of the band members
seem bemused that anybody cares after a decade and a half.
again, that’s been the story with Wowee
Zowee all along…underrated and misunderstood at the time of its release; the
album’s reputation has only grown during the ensuing years. While it remains
the lowest-selling of Pavement’s first four (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain being the band’s best-selling), Wowee Zowee remains the album of choice
for the band’s enduring faithful. With his entertaining and informative look
behind the scenes, Bryan Charles has enhanced the album’s status as one of the
landmark releases of the 1990s.