Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins Reissue

(Matador; 2004)

By Peter Hepburn | 26 January 2008

I finally picked up a copy of Erik B and Rakim’s classic Paid in Full a couple months ago. This was not just any copy of Paid in Full though; this was the deluxe, 2-disc reissue, with a full 10 bonus songs and remixes. Sure, I had to pay an extra few bucks, but why not? After all, there were those bonuses. . .

But then I think back a few years to the excitement as the fog lifted around the fabled Slow Century project and Matador announced, and then delivered upon, the reissue of Slanted and Enchanted---easily one of the most important albums of the '90s. Thing is, Matador really delivered the goods. The reissue cost as much as the original, but there were two jam-packed CDs and a novella worth of photos and notes from the band and their friends.

So two years have passed and what do Matador go and do? They show the major labels how it ought to be done once again. Sure, they’re starting with the task of immortalizing an album that was relatively bulletproof to begin with, but they add 37---yes, 37---new tracks, only a handful of which are previously released.

It seems pointless to talk to much about CRCR itself except for a couple quick points:

• This album is really, really good. Those who say it’s Pavement trying to sell out either haven’t listened to the album or have never tried to sell out. If “Heaven is a Truck” or “5-4 = Unity” are your ideas of selling out, then you may need to seriously reevaluate your understanding of mainstream culture. If you want to hear Pavement selling out or pandering to the high-minded indie fans, check out the fantastic Brighten the Corners or the Nigel Godrich-produced Terror Twilight.

• Much as I am slow to admit it, this may be Pavement’s best. My favorite is still the perpetually Wowee Zowee, but It’s hard to argue with the quality of songwriting and musicianship shown on CRCR. The first seven songs are indie classics, the furor raised over “Range Life” still gets way too much attention, and “Fillmore Jive” is a terrific closer, even coming off the terrible Spiral Stairs song.

Okay, I think I’ve got that out of my system. Most of the people who are rushing out to stores to pick this up already own the record (at least I sincerely hope you already do). So what are they getting for their $15? B-sides and early versions galore, with a Peel session thrown in for good measure. If Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe and Redux taught me one thing, it was that Pavement managed to not use some pretty great songs, and CRCR: LA’s Desert Origin’s confirms this.

On the first disc, Back to the Gold Sounds (Phantom Power Parables) (Stephen Malkmus will never make enough records to use up all his great titles), there are a few songs that stand up to anything on the album proper. “Raft” is a great rocker, the lovely “Strings of Nashville” has long been a fan-favorite, and the version of “5-4=Unity” with vocals is enough to make any Pavement fan drool (even if they are a bit too “Baptist Blacktick” for most of us). “Jam Kids” sounds like an early version of a couple songs from Terror Twilight, and their ballad to R.E.M., “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” (formerly released on that middling No Alternative compilation that most of us only bought for "Verse Chorus Verse") is great, complete with Malkmus’s wail of: “‘Time after Time’ was my least favorite song!”

The second disc contains completely unreleased recordings, though some of the songs have long been available in other versions to fans. The treat here is the recordings of a lot of the songs from CRCR, and even a few from Wowee Zowee, with Pavement’s original drummer, Gary Young, playing. The songs tend to be a bit louder and faster, especially well displayed by the frenetic “Flux=Rad.” “All My Friends” may be the finest B-side here, and it’s a shame that one didn’t make the record, though a surprising number of the Gary Young-era songs sound great. The Beach Boys approach to “Pueblo” is hilarious, and the Peel session is, as is to be expected, nothing short of fantastic.

Matador didn’t have to do much to make a quick buck here. They’re doing well this season with Antics, and they could be charging a whole lot more for a lot less. They didn’t need to include notes from Malkmus (including his notes on every song from the original album) and Spiral Stairs, as well as an interview with Gerard Cosloy and a great collection of photos of the band. Very simply, CRCR: LA’s Desert Origins is everything that a reissue should be. Once again, the minor label shows the major how things ought to be done. I can’t wait for Wowee Zowee (assuming they have enough material sitting around to warrant it), and I hope that Matador, and perhaps some of the other minors, choose to do this with other members of their rosters.