Pavement Runs Their Course: Remembering ‘Terror Twilight’
Pavement’s last album, 1999’s ‘Terror Twilight,’ sounds like a last album. Their previous record, 1997’s ‘Brighten the Corners,’ was a return, after the stoned and cold experimentalism of ‘Wowee Zowee,’ to the sharp songcraft and tight turns the band navigated on 1994’s ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.’ ‘Terror Twilight,’ their fifth album, is all hands-in-the-air giving up, a sign that the group had run its course and there was not much, if anything, left to say.
But it’s not a hopeless album. Or even a bad one. In fact, it’s pretty good. But there’s a general weariness that sticks to almost all of the songs like a support group for tired, beaten and slightly bruised indie rockers. There’s very little joy in the grooves and even less motivation to pick up any steam. If ‘Brighten the Corners’ was Pavement’s attempt to tie all of their labels – artsy, noisy, pretentious, loose, sloppy, great pop songwriters buried in indie-rock flannel – then ‘Terror Twilight’ is their attempt to tie all of their loose ends before saying goodbye.
It starts with one of the band’s best songs, the firmly focused and warmly played ‘Spit on a Stranger.’ From there, the album careens through the usual mix of jagged alt-rock, knotty art-rock and some classic-rock moves thrown in from time to time. It’s mostly Pavement on autopilot, with stops for ‘Major Leagues’ and ‘Carrot Rope,’ two highlights. But with Stephen Malkmus penning all 11 songs (the only Pavement album on which he does this) and taking control of all the music, ‘Terror Twilight’ often sounds just as much like the start of a solo career as it does the end of a band.
‘Terror Twilight’ hit No. 95 on the chart – not as high as ‘Brighten the Corner’’s No. 70 showing, but better than any other Pavement record. Still, it’s sold less than any of their other albums, barely moving 100,000 copies since its release 14 years ago. By 1999, no one was playing Pavement on the radio, not even the modern-rock stations that made ‘Cut Your Hair’ a Top 10 hit five years earlier. The group went out on tour for six months to promote the record. By the time they got off the road, they were no longer a band. But anyone who had heard ‘Terror Twilight’ knew what was coming.
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