Sound: I noticed this album hadn't been reviewed yet, so why not it's a classic. Pavement's third endeavor finds them returning to the eclectic madness of their debut while still holding onto the sunny gold sounds of their second, to brilliant effect. But "Wowee Zowee" is far more than a re-hash of the classic Pavement sound, it brings in plenty of new and exciting sounds with a real sense of experimentation the Jazz-muzak verses of "Grave Architecture", to the string section/penny whistle/keyboard that grace the fantastic "Fight This Generation" all the way to the weird, fragmented songs "Extradition" and "Best Friend's Arm". They really went all out on this album, and even though it can be exhausting and might take a few goes to get all the way through it, any Pavement devotee will find some of their true favourites on this album.
According to Stephen Malkmus, this album was heavily pot-influenced, and it shows: "Rattled By The Rush" was released as a single, with it's extra-long guitar solo/noise passage intact, although this is fair enough as it is possibly the albums overall standout track, along with "Grounded". These two tracks I would consider to be part of Pavement's "defining sound": shambling but majestic, pretty but occasionally discordant and chock full of alternate tunings. They know how to balance their music perfectly. "Wowee Zowee" remains Pavement's most obscure and experimental record but undoubtedly one of their best, even if it is a little bit uneven and patchy in parts. Something interesting about this album is it's use of country, quite a few tracks feature slide guitar and reverb-drenched strumming they hinted at on "Range Life" but now fully flesh out. If I had to make a complaint it'd be that I wish Malkmus would have written a couple more all-out Pavement classics and sacrificed a couple of the more random songs. However if I could go back in time and make that happen, I wouldn't: the album is what is it, and it's great. // 8
Lyrics: Stephen Malkmus starts trying a few new things here, starting straight from the opening track "We Dance", sounding almost English and on this track his vocals are downright beautiful. By this album, he is really improving his vocal skills (but they're still nowhere near as polished as "Brighten The Corners" yet). Lyrically, this album doesn't stand out as much as some of his other work due to a lot of the songs being more about their sound than message, but there's some pretty great songs such as "Fight This Generation", a song that really outlines a frustration with those around you through equal parts sadness and sarcasm (probably, anyway... Who ever can say they know exactly what SM is talking about?), and other songs such as "Father To A Sister Of Thought", "Grounded", "Black Out" and "Rattled By The Rush" (a lyrical standout too) all have the classic vocal hooks and catchy/surreal lyrics Malkmus is known for. "Spiral Stairs" has quite a few tracks on this album, his best probably being "Serpentine Pad", a song that both frustrates and pleases me, it's a real art-punk gem that he finally gets to shine on, snottily singing some true-to-heart anti-corporate-music lyrics that actually fairly reflect Pavement themselves ("We don't need this corporation attitude"). Overall, vocally this album is a standout for both vocalists, but some of the lyrics are too obscure to even draw anything from other than good imagery (not a bad thing considering which band this is!). // 7
Overall Impression: This album sits right next to their first, second and fourth as some of the best music to grace the nineties (I don't dislike "Terror Twilight", it's just nowhere near as ground-breaking/interesting/satisfying as their first four) and it should be heard by anyone who likes alternative/indie music in general. If I had to compare this album to another artists' work I would say it is similar to early Pixies or early Dinosaur Jr., a great mix of melody, punk, and experimentation. Malkmus is getting to be a really talented lead guitarist by here (not that he wasn't before) and gets to really rock out and solo hard on this album (just behold "Rattled By The Rush") and the rest of the band is right with him as they twist and turn through weird tempo changes and the sound collages that make up the album. Never before or again did Pavement cover so much ground, they fulfill their indie rock contract and then continue to deliver and deliver, with art-punk ("Serpentine Pad", "Flux = Rad"), country ("Father To A Sister Of Thought", "Extradition"), desert rock ("Half A Canyon"), balladry ("We Dance"), and noise rock ("Best Friend's Arm").
Personally, my favourites tracks are "Rattled By The Rush", "Father To A Sister Of Thought", "Fight This Generation" and "Black Out" but you might find yourself loving any of the others, there's so much variation. If you are a Pavement fan and haven't heard this album yet (it was the last one I discovered) then do yourself a favour and get this now! If you are a fan of good alternative/independent music such as the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh or Sonic Youth then get into Pavement RIGHT NOW. You will not regret it. They are a band that stay with you forever and this album is yet another great example of how they can do that. Even the songs you don't like, you will still find yourself humming them randomly. A great album, overall a classic, highly recommended. // 9