Review #265: Wowee Zowee, Pavement

Karla Clifton
3 min readApr 23, 2022

#265: Wowee Zowee, Pavement

My review of Slanted and Enchanted (#199) was not uniformly positive. I didn’t get it. Pavement wasn’t exactly unpleasant but they weren’t exactly pleasant, either. And I LOVE noise rock. I was disappointed by my reaction, and apprehensive for Wowee Zowee.

So I was pretty surprised when “We Dance” opened the record, a glum acoustic ballad. (Though it has the word castration in the first line so you can still tell it’s punk.) Then Pavement takes you for an hour-long roller coaster ride that commits to no genre.

And friends, I was fully along for the ride. I think mellowing out, as RS accuses them of doing, worked in their favor. There were quite a few straight ballads here, from the wistful plucked-guitar of “Blackout” to the heartfelt, acousticky “AT&T.” The light fingerpicking to the intro/outro of “Grounded” sounds like the opposite of being grounded: being airborne.

It doesn’t hurt that the second song is about as catchy as Pavement gets. “Rattled by the Rush” has Stephen Malkmus yelping some truly great lines like Caught my dad crying and Drowning for your thirst over a low-energy stop-and-start plaintive guitar part. I think Malkmus’ voice is growing on me, too, probably because he’s singing mostly in his lower register. (Though I always appreciate a good screech, of which there are plenty.) It wasn’t until the fifth time I listened that I noticed the song was over four minutes long.

Actually, at 55 minutes, this is also Pavement’s longest studio album. Apparently Malkmus was a big pot-smoker at the time, which probably explains it. Most of these devolve into weirdo guitar meditations eventually. “Motion Suggests” starts with some eerie kiddie circus thing, and “Extradition” has a very spacey and giggley middle, but they both get meditative. “Father to a Sister of a Thought” has a country-western sensibility, a la Ween’s 12 Golden Country Greats. “Best Friend’s Arm” is less of a meditation and more of an angry dirge, ending with an out-of-key chant that sent me straight to hell.

Sorry if I’m going on too long, I was just engrossed by this record. It scratched every musical itch I had. Like, okay, for instance: I love songs about generations. I was thrilled when I finally discovered that it was time to “Fight This Generation.” Goddamn the guts and the gore/Nobody’s crying ’cause there’s no one to score for. Then, in the middle, it changes to an entirely different song.

See what I mean? This album is impossible to write about. I want to relay every single detail.

I kept trying to take it apart English-major style. Once I thought I caught a theme: America. “Pueblo” is about, well, Pueblo, and “Grave Architecture” conjures up Washington D.C., with its marble walls & monuments. But that doesn’t really hold up because, well, those two songs plus indie ballads plus marijuana-fueled thrash grooves don’t equal America.

And I would be remiss not to bring up all the sassy punk boy songs. “Brinx Job,” “Serpentine Pad,” and “Flux = Rad” all got added to my running playlist.

So what does it all add up to? Frontman Stephen Malkmus has called it the last “classic Pavement record” but guitarist Scott Kannberg said, “We made some mistakes on that record … I mean, I’m totally into the record. It’s just if we had another six months to think about it, it would’ve been much different.”

That sounds like kind of a dig at Malkmus to me, since he wrote all but two songs (“Kennel District,” which is great, and “Western Homes,” which is fine) but maybe I’m just reading into it.

Pavement received mixed reviews for this record initially, which is a shame, because they lost all the momentum from their 15-minutes-of-mainstream-fame “Cut Your Hair.” Then again, maybe it’s not a shame, because I don’t think Malkmus was smoking pot and writing guitar meditations with the mainstream in mind.

Other Highlights: “Half a Canyon” sounds like the White Stripes mixed with Guided by Voices.

Review #264: Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd

Review #266: Help!, The Beatles