Pavement - Brighten The Corners

OI, DAMON! Got that limited-edition, ultra-rare, one-sided King Kong seven-inch remixed by John McEntire? Whaddyamean, 'No'? Oh well, just a thought. But how lo-fi can you go? Not quite as far as the very sultan of atonal cardigan-cool, Stephen Malkmus, one presumes - a man still too rich to tune his guitar and fully prepared to take on the evil corporate empire once more with fourth LP 'Brighten The Corners'. After all, ever since modest masterpiece 'Crooked Rain Crooked Rain' and its less thrilling successor 'Wowee Zowee' turned up in '95, there's always been a whole school of critical thought intent on making us believe that if only Pavement could curb, arf!, their wayward sonic excesses and apply themselves the world might well be their lobster.

Potential for lo-fi nirvana arrives, then, with the news that 'Brighten...' comes complete with Bryce Goggin, knob twiddler with the defiantly hi-fi Spacehog and legendary REM producer Mitch Easter manning the controls. Heavens! So maybe Damon'n'Justine - who've spent the last few weeks gabbling to anyone who'll listen about the joy of waking up to find Stephen curled up on their futon - were right all along! A solemn duty then to report that 'Brighten The Corners' (a pun, inevitably, on working title 'Bright In The Corners') is, for all the feverish proclamations, a Pavement album as cleverly cracked as any other. Strangled fuzz-chords scrape and shatter in the most improbable of places, songs cheerily give up the ghost and drift off into a countrified deep space for no clear reason - most notably, on gorgeous five-minute epic 'Type Slowly' - and Stephen gets to run his usual riot through the gobbledegook handbook (personal fave: "Aloha means goodbye and also hello/It's in how you inflect..." from sleazed-up organ-fest 'Blue Hawaiian'). A breakthrough into the clear blue waters of the mainstream it is not. Rather we get splashes of everything we've ever come to expect from Pavement and more lunacy besides. Frazzled poetic pop chewing gum (the dazzling 'Stereo', shopping ode 'Date With Ikea'), tumbling Fall-shags-the-Pixies time-structure hell ('Old To Begin'), scrawny death-rattle Byrds riffs ('We Are Underused'), they're all present and correct and dressed up in K-Mart chic. And yeah, there are moments, particularly during the spellbindingly wistful 'Transport Is Arranged' - Pavement go Gorkys! - or the loony Electronic-a of 'Passat' where the whole album feels so gonzo-abstract you can imagine Stephen slaying stadiums with his imperfect, acerbic, pop psychobabble.

Only trouble is, for too much of the time during 'Brighten...' anyone who isn't a fully paid-up member of the lo-fi lounge club is left shivering out in the cold, left to either despair (or roar with laughter, depending on your state of mind) at all the self-conscious excesses Malkmus throws at us. Neither of which, alas, will get the record company accountant's pulses racing.

Perhaps the only way to really understand the depths to be found lurking within 'Brighten The Corners' is to imagine quite what Stephen Malkmus has been through to reach this free-flowing, eternally scrambled state, where lyrics are nothing more than cut-up soundbites and songs skidaddle from power-pop conformity to avant-garde surrealism in the space of mere nanoseconds.

Perhaps the best way of imagining what 'Brighten The Corners' sounds like is to picture what Blur would sound like if they weren't the sons of the soil we know and live but as idle-rich millionaires, fresh from two years in the psychiatrist's chair and intent on doing damn well what they pleased and to hell with the consequences. But hang on a minute...


Paul Moody