Happy 25th Anniversary to Pavement’s second studio album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, originally released February 14, 1994.
Subtly complicated, surprisingly devoid of feedback and the general lo-fi leanings of earlier music, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is the most straightforward rock album to come from the guys of Pavement. Their second studio album, it was released February 14, 1994, to positive critical reception. The slapdash, DIY-ness of the album has aged to a punk rock patina over the past 25 years.
In the time between Pavement’s 1992 debut album Slanted and Enchanted and the release of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Steve West replaced original drummer Gary Young, a lineup change that ushered in a new era of accessibility, with gentler drumming and a more melodic vibe. The album captures the youthful ennui of grunge, while offering a glimpse into the slacker culture to come in the following years.
With the first track, “Silent Kid,” they kick things off with heavy riffs and a cowbell, making the thesis clear from the start: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is a rock album. There are winding, Sonic Youth-style breakdowns capping off several tracks. With the exception of “Hit the Plane Down,” with its slappy bassline and distorted vocals, there aren’t too many moments of dated ‘90s sound.
Four songs in, “Cut Your Hair” is almost startling in its pop catchiness. Pavement’s only true mainstream “hit,” it’s full of Stephen Malkmus’ signature snide quips, the song an ode to the pervasive shallowness of the music industry. The line “a special new band,” drips with cynicism, only to be followed by cheery “oohs.” The sing-along worthy chorus is laid down on top of fuzz and feedback, creating a delightful hybrid of style.
“Gold Soundz” is the pièce de résistance, full of Malkmus-isms like, “stay around, with your knuckles ground down,” a perfect insult wrapped in eloquence. Tidy in timing and tight pop chords, it’s a simple song that packs a lot of emotional punch. It’s the softer moments, like “Gold Soundz” or “Stop Breathin,” when everything becomes very earnest, that are needed to balance out the bone-dry garage rock and make the album so much more than five guys belittling the world around them.
While not the most cohesive album, jumping from the spacey jazz of “5-4=Unity” to the over-the-top twang of “Range Life,” the abrupt tonal changes feel like a conversation between friends, moving from topic to topic, using a shorthand that becomes clearer with each listen.
In a concise summation of Pavement’s magic, Los Angeles Times critic Richard Cromelin wrote Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain contains "some of the Meat Puppets' loopiness, a Stones/Burritos folk-country resonance, and a chirpy pop tunefulness--along with enough contrary abrasiveness to keep you from getting too comfortable with them." The charmed formula of shy intellectuals jamming together in a stream-of-conscious style created one of the most influential indie rock albums of a decade already stacked with great music. Iconically Pavement, even 20 years later, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain hasn’t lost its magic.