Certain Songs #1496: Pavement – “We Are Underused”

Album: Brighten The Corners
Year: 1997

It wasn’t anything new for Pavement, but a good chunk of the best songs on Brighten The Corners started off in one place and ended in a completely different place, so if you didn’t like the relatively quiet beginnings and/or slow tempos, if you had any kind of patience at all, songs like “Transport Is Arranged,” “Old To Begin” and “Type Slowly” totally and completely paid off by their ends.

But probably no song had a weirder journey that “We Are Underused,” which I think is both a generational observation as well as a song about accepting that you’re aging. Alternating stop-and-go verses with anthemic choruses, “We Are Underused” ends up a long way from the lone harpsichord (I think) that opens it.

So if the first verse is a joke about going to yet another wedding, the second verse was something totally different.

Simply put, I want to grow old
Dying does not meet my expectations
Let’s drink a toast to all those who arrived alive
To tell about their struggles
In hushed tones around a fire
It’s late winter
Let’s sink the ship
Mix our blood, just the tip
A Crip is sleeping on the basement stairs

But what I really love his how Malkmus sings the title chorus — his voice strained and breaking the entire time, though that’s also part of the hook somehow — after each verse.

We are uh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-hun-der-used
We are uh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-hun-der-used

After the second verse, Malkmus embarks on a very long solo with an effect that sounds almost like a wah-wah, but maybe closer to the envelope effect that Pete Townshend used for “Going Mobile”. At first you assume that it’s going to be be relatively short solo, but it goes on and on, and eventually his bandmates come up to support, as they all start singing.

We are underused
We are underused
We are underused
We are underused
We are underused
We are underused
We are underused

Of course, this being Pavement, it almost instantly devolves into voices squeaking in falsetto — either Malkmus or Bob Nastanovich — and generally having a good time fucking with with what could have been an anthemic sing-along ending. And yet, with Malkmus’ guitar solo continuing through the whole thing, it pretty much lands that way, at least for me.

“We Are Underused”

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