Friday, 22 August 2014

Favourite albums: TERROR TWILIGHT (1999) by Pavement

Sneaky Christian priests? Cricket? Blowjobs? Stephen Malkmus was genius for ending Pavement’s career with a song as fantastic and inexplicable as “Carrot Rope”. Catchy, probably nonsensical, it’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. And if you feel any guilt about singing along to a song about ‘carrot ropes’, never you worry. ‘Carrot ropes’ could mean so many things.

A few people have told me this about Bossanova: if that is your first Pixies’ album, it is bound to stay your favourite. Hasn’t worked for me (you don’t beat Doolittle with “Rock Music”), but the idea may be true for Pavement’s last album. It just sounds like their most complete, mature, thoughtful work. Terror Twilight has a very special, homogenous feel to it, and each one of these 11 songs manages to contain everything you love about Pavement.

Terror Twilight is the perfect sound of ramshackle beauty mixed with sadness. It is sad – because this was supposed to be their last album and they knew it. It is beautiful – well, because Malkmus (and Malkmus only, Spiral Stairs only lends vocals to “Carrot Rope”) wrote his most beautiful tunes for this album.

And it’s not just “Spit On A Stranger” which may be the loveliest break-up (I’m guessing) song ever written. And it’s not just “Major Leagues” which may be the loveliest song ever written. It’s beautiful even when it’s rough, and the epic “Platform Blues” (‘you’re a nice guy, and I hate you for that’) is a powerhouse of intensity that is somehow filled with intensely powerful vocal melodies. To say nothing of that astonishing guitar/harmonica interplay which may well be the instrumental high point of the whole album. And instrumentally – not least due to Nigel Goldrich’s crispy-clear production – Terror Twilight is impeccable. That guitar solo in “The Hexx” would have been a nice final chord to Pavement’s career. But then of course: Malkmus had to fuck it up by sticking a goofy carrot rope at the very end.

Quite in contrast to the head-spinning mess of Wowee Zowee, this time Malkmus’s diversity feels measured, controlled. “Ann Don’t Cry” (‘room to give but no room to give in’) is a heartbreakingly gorgeous ballad, “The Hexx” (‘architecture students are like virgins with an itch they cannot scratch’) is pleasingly unnerving, icy-cold perfection, “Cream Of Gold” (‘I dream in beige’) is infectious grunge, “Speak, See, Remember” (‘deadbeat December’) is jazzy and adventurous, “Folk Jam” (‘Irish folk tales scare the shit out of me’) is, well, a jolly banjo-driven folk jam with an indie twist. One of the greatest 90’s songwriters at the peak of his whimsical songwriting powers. Those fey ‘la-la-la’s in “Billie”? Even that works.

We all love Slanted & Enchanted, and Terror Twilight might not be the Pavement album. That is not the point. My point is that Terror Twilight has all the best songs. 

Also, ‘Relationships, hey, hey, hey’. It’s not very often that you come up with lines as ridiculous and brilliant as that. In fact, most of us never do.

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