Pavement's third record, Wowee Zowee, has spent most of its shelf life as the band's supposedly "difficult" record, often viewed as precursor to, or retreat from, their masterpiece, Crooked Rain Crooked Rain.
But context, it turns out, is everything. WZ was released in 1995 on the heels of Nirvana's industry-altering success, when the majors and indies scoured the underground for acts with next-big-thing potential. CRCR's educated-slacker lyrics, infectious sing-along choruses and unbeatable melodies made Pavement an obvious candidate.
But unlike some contemporaries (Beck and Weezer, for instance), Stephen Malkmus and his Northern California cohorts were ambivalent about grabbing for the brass ring. So Pavement took a page from the Replacements' bite-the-hand-that-feeds book and stepped away from the polish and lyricism of CRCR. WZ's "Flux = Rad" was, in fact, the band's spot-on, loud-quiet-loud response to grunge mania, and arguably the snarkiest Cobain send-up ever. Instead, much of WZ hearkened back to the raucous cacophony of Pavement's full-length debut, Slanted & Enchanted.
Or so went the conventional wisdom at the time of WZ's release in the afterglow of CRCR. Now, Matador gives Wowee Zowee: the Sordid Sentinels Edition the same double-disc reissue-love the first two records received, affording fans the opportunity to re-examine where WZ fits in the band's stellar firmament. Time has been kind in the intervening dozen years, because WZ's all-over-the-map aesthetic and transitional nature make it a logical follow-up to CRCR, and a perfectly bad-ass record in its own right.
Songs like album opener "We Dance," "Father to a Sister of Thought," "Rattled by the Rush," "Pueblo" and "AT & T" reprise CRCR's twangier inclinations and rousing-chorus songcraft, while the guitar freakout "Half a Canyon," white noise punk of "Serpentine Pad," and jive funk of "Brinx Job" take S&E's instinctual approach and point the way toward 1997's Brighten the Corners.
That said, while the 11 extras on the first disc are mostly top-notch (especially the Pacific Trim EP), Disc 2's live tracks, compilation and soundtrack cuts, b-sides and outtakes aren't nearly as essential as the previous records' bonus discs. But as a remastered reminder of Pavement in their prime, the Wowee Zowee reissue serves its purpose nicely.