Pavement: “Brighten the Corners [Nicence Creedence Edition]”
Neither as fun as the ragged, freewheeling Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain nor as bracing as the sprawling Wowee Zowee, Brighten the Corners nevertheless remains as beguiling and curious as any entry in Pavement’s canon, even if its place in said canon is still somewhat disputed. Sporting a much cleaner, tamer sound than the wild, woolly albums that came before it, Brighten is sometimes written off as Pavement’s bid for the mainstream or their acceptance of middle-age, but what gives the album its lingering appeal is that, while both of these assessments seem apt upon first listen, the album reveals itself over time to be one of the band’s most sophisticated and complex, and surely their most subtle: It is, in fact, their tacit acceptance of the fact that they would never reach the mainstream, and a giant middle finger suggesting that, for the band members and Stephen Malkmus in particular, quietly fading into suburbia simply wasn’t an option.
The smoothness and focus of the album is disarming even today, especially given the band’s reputation for jagged edges, bursts of noise, and stylistic restlessness. It’s also heavy on ballads and slower numbers, which might give the illusion that the band has lost its fangs, but in fact, this is the sound of Stephen Malkmus becoming bored with the rough, jittery sound of past Pavement albums and yearning to make something a little more subtle and sophisticated. The result is an album that takes all of his previous genre-hopping exploits and musical jokes and wraps them up into a tightly-wound, comparatively smooth set of songs that are based in classic rock and sound at first like they’re less complicated than before; upon repeated spins, however, the album reveals itself to be the product of an able craftsman, as Malkmus hasn’t abandoned his rough edges, but, rather, he’s woven them all together into an uncommonly hypnotic, melodic record that reveals its musical complexity gradually rather than immediately, which is the chief difference between this and previous Pavement discs. It’s also the album that reveals the most about the band’s psychology, as Malkmus’ fractured songwriting reveals his own insecurities about growing older, his recognition that his band will never be superstars, and his disenchantment with comfy suburban life. It’s the sound of a master musician coming to grips with the fact that he’s outgrowing his own band, and, as such, it’s pretty fascinating.
But of course, in true Pavement fashion, the superb re-release of the album– winkingly titled the Nicene Creedence Edition— throws a wrench into all of that, once again begging for the album’s placement in the Pavement canon to be reevaluated by muddying out impressions of just what the album is and proving it to be an even more complicated record than previously thought. The generous two-disc re-release is chock full of extra songs, some of them so wild and weird that they don’t seem to belong on this album at all, suggesting that the Pavement who made this album were just as capable of rough edges and stylistic detours as the Pavement who made Crooked Rain, but here they had developed a sense of craft and concision that caused them to streamline their album as much as possible. And this, of course, only adds to its intrigue and allure. Pavement is still tampering with their own mythology even years after they disbanded, which only proves further that for these perpetually smartass ironists and musical rabble-rousers, nothing is ever as simple or neat as it may initially appear.