In my 1999 mood I decided to finally listen to the deluxe reissue of Pavement’s last album, Terror Twilight, which is subtitled “Farewell Horizontal.” This is a task I’ve been putting off for months, as I suspected there wasn’t much of value left in the vault after the epic Brighten the Corners reissue. I wasn’t wrong, but I don’t regret having done it; time spent with Pavement is never entirely wasted.
TT was an outlier among Pavement albums, produced by a big name (Nigel Godrich of Radiohead and Beck fame) and really produced — big-sounding and loaded with detail, it thus lacks the shambolic charm of, say, Wowee Zowee. But you have to admire the craft that went into a song like “Spit on a Stranger”: every note and word precisely in place, not a note or word wasted, and — bonus points — just a smidge over three minutes exactly. In short, a perfect song.
“Spit on a Stranger” sounds like a hit, but it wasn’t, because the world is full of Philistines. Weirdly, at this point Pavement’s biggest “hit” — streamed 88 million times on Spotify, more than twice the total of the next contender — is “Harness Your Hopes,” which was not a single or an album track but an obscure song that appeared on the “Stranger” CD single. For some weird algorithmic reason “Harness” got pushed to a lot of people as a song they might like, and many of them liked it, and they were right to like it because it is also a perfect song.
Anyway, about the reissue: It took me a few days to get through it, and here’s what I learned:
- Apparently back in the day the band considered two different running orders for the album, one favored by producer Godrich, and one created by guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg. Spiral’s sequence won the day, but the reissue uses Godrich’s, which begins with “Platform Blues” and then goes straight to “The Hexx,” the original album’s closer. It’s a worthwhile thought exercise, but Spiral was right.
- Typical of last albums, there aren’t many outtakes from Terror Twilight. By 1999 Pavement was not a young band who would screw around in the studio for fun; they were a business operation in the process of dissolving, and had a hard time assembling enough material to make an LP. Probably the best of the few is “Be the Hook,” which is (barely) recognizable as a nascent version of a song that would appear on Steve Malkmus’s first solo album:
- Much of the reissue is filled out with Malkmus’s demos of the songs or early versions recorded before the album really got in gear. While it’s always interesting to hear how a song developed, many of these have a sausage-being-made quality. I’m glad I heard them once, but don’t necessarily need to hear them again.
- The six live songs that close the set document a show at which Malkmus’s voice was completely wrecked, making for a painful listening experience. But it’s fun to hear Pavement do “Sinister Purpose,” one of the great underappreciated Creedence songs; their cover is respectful and perfectly fine, but the original is a stone killer:
Inevitably at some point during the song I think that Fogerty is actually saying “sinister porpoise” and I giggle to myself. Here’s a picture of a sinister porpoise I found online. You’re welcome. Have a nice day.