“Boys are dying on these … streets”
While I was doing research on Wowee Zowee, I saw more than one comparison to The Beatles, that eclectic follow up to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that also confused the hell out of people when it came out, and is now held up as a precursor to sprawling experimental indie rock albums like Wowee Zowee.
And that does make some sense. While the other four Pavement albums tapped out between 11-14 songs, Wowee Zowee came in at a massive 18 songs, and was wildly divergent from track to track, even for a band that stuck a 5/4 “jazz” workout in between a pair of folk-rock singles, so it never quite got the momentum the previous two records ended up with.
This was on purpose: Stephen Malkmus sequenced the record, and said that it all made sense it him, but he’s also said that he was smoking a lot of pot at the time, so maybe that’s the key. To me, one of the most frustrating things about the purposeful craziness of Wowee Zowee was that the songs on it I loved, I really really loved, like the early highlight “Grounded,” a scathing take on the medical profession.
Doctor’s leaving for the holiday season
Got crystal ice picks, no gift for the gab
And in the parking lot, is the sedan he bought
He never, he never complains when it’s hot
The verses are set to Malkmus and Scott Kanneberg’s insistent jangling, repetitive guitars and a slow-ass Steve West drumbeat, but the overall vibe was tighter than on any of their previous records — probably because it was their first true full-band recording — and so everybody was together as they loped into the chorus, guitars switching from jangle to skronk and upping his disdain towards his target.
He foaled a swollen daughter in the sauna
Playing contract bridge
They’re soaking up the fun or doing blotters
I don’t know which…which…which
Boys are dying on these streets
Which is followed by the best hook on the whole record: an arching, noisy, angry guitar riff that tries again and again to escape gravity only to get dragged back down to earth again and again. I still can’t remember half of the songs from Wowee Zowee by their titles — though I recognize them when I hear them — but I’ll be able to sing that guitar hook until the day I die.
After the second chorus, the the song stops for a second, and it’s just Malkmus and Kanneberg circling around each other with their guitars, their interplay reminding me — for the first time, but not the last — of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd: two guitars, no waiting. It’s one of the most haunting and lovely moments on any Pavement record.
“Grounded,” like “Pueblo” and “Kennel District” dates from the Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain era, and while it’s tempting to wonder what that album would have been like with these three songs replacing “Newark Wilder,” “Heaven is a Truck” and “Hit The Plane Down,” in the end, the versions on Wowee Zowee are superior to the original recordings.
“Grounded” live in Manchester, 1999
“Grounded” live in Roskilde, 2010
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