Pavement’s ‘Brighten the Corners’ – A Look Back at a Classic Album
Following 1994’s milestone ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ album, Pavement were at a crucial point in their career. They became music snobs’ favorite new band thanks to the fractured art-rock and lyrical/musical discord of their 1992 debut album, ‘Slanted and Enchanted.’ But then they surprised everyone with a set of songs with super-catchy melodies that, gulp, sounded an awful lot like pop music on ‘Crooked Rain.’ They countered that a year later when they made ‘Wowee Zowee,’ their most messed-up and demanding album.
But they must have really liked the spotlight that was aimed at them after ‘Crooked Rain’ came out; they had their only modern-rock radio hit (‘Cut Your Hair’) and appeared on ‘The Tonight Show,’ in what had to be one of the most bizarre musical performances on late-night TV in the ‘90s. So, for their fourth album, 1997’s ‘Brighten the Corners,’ Pavement returned to the tuneful songcraft that populated ‘Crooked Rain.’
Opening with ‘Stereo’ – in which frontman Stephen Malkmus muses on Rush singer Geddy Lee’s impossibly high voice – ‘Brighten the Corners’ flips the switch on the deliberately difficult music of its predecessor. There are definite moments of middle-finger flicking to modern-rock radio’s increasingly narrow airplay roster, like in the atonal guitar freak-out that opens ‘Stereo.’ But songs like ‘Shady Lane’ and ‘Date With Ikea’ come pretty close to the more adventurous side of the Top 40.
Not that it did much good. Neither of the album’s two singles netted much airplay or charted. The album itself made it to No. 70, the highest a Pavement full-length ever got, but it still hasn’t gone gold, 15-plus years after its release.
Pavement returned two years later with their final album, ‘Terror Twilight,’ which didn’t go as far out with polarizing sounds as ‘Wowee Zowee’ did, but the near-pop embraces of ‘Crooked Rain’ and ‘Brighten the Corners’ were abandoned for far more experimental noise. ‘Slanted and Enchanted’ and ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ are Pavement’s undisputed classics, but the group was never as focused and as hopeful as they were on ‘Brighten the Corners.’
Watch Pavement’s Video for ‘Stereo’