Let’s get this right out of the way: this Pavement greatest hits album does not belong to you or me, or to Pitchfork, or to Rolling Stone, or to that burned out thirty-something Pavement fanatic that works down the street at your local used record store. No, this album belongs squarely to Stephen Malkmus and Co., a fact that they make extremely clear through their unique (some might say disappointing) track listing. Frontwards? Mellow Jazz Docent? Debris Slide? Look for these songs on any of their five official releases and you’ll turn up empty handed. Yet they all show up in force on Quarantine the Past in place of fan favorites like Carrot Rope, Loretta’s Scars, and Father to a Sister of Thought, which some (me included) would argue are more deserving of spots on a record that purports to represent Pavement’s best work. What this suggests is that Pavement have constructed Quarantine the Past as the compilation album that they feel best showcases the musical soul of the band, as opposed to one constructed with an aim in mind of shifting the most copies possible.
The end result of this unique approach to song selection is record full of quirks, surprises, warts, and, of course, some of the most well constructed alt-rock of the past twenty years. Obvious choices such as Cut Your Hair, Summer Babe (Winter Version), Gold Soundz, and Date With Ikea structure the record with the tantalizing mainstream pop sound Pavement was famous for owning but never totally utilizing, while cuts like Here, Spit on a Stranger, and Range Life showcase the underlying romanticism and sensitivity that secretly made Pavement great. The band round out the disc with the aforementioned obscurities, and lesser known (but equally fun) album tracks like the rambunctious Two States and the hard-rocking Embassy Row.
Looking for musical perfection? Quarantine the Past is certainly not that. But then again, neither was Pavement. The sloppy, absent-minded, lazy, arrogant, too-high-to-play band that critics and listeners alike have come to love created this retrospective with the intent purpose of demonstrating the very qualities that made them such a musical conundrum when they debuted on the scene way back in 1991. Never before had alternative rock seen a band blessed with so much raw talent display so little outward ambition. Sure, that combination is infuriating at times for people like me who wished the band could have pushed through the clouds of obscurity into mainstream stardom. But there’s an undeniable genius underlying all of the mess that they’ve created over the past two decades, and Quarantine the Past is as good a place as any to begin the search for it.
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Worth a Listen (or 5): Gold Soundz, Summer Babe, Range Life, Date With Ikea
Run Away From At All Costs: Nada. This record is a gem.