Pavement: “Quarantine The Past”

It’s a dubious business, calling any band empirically ‘great’. But perhaps one indicator of greatness might be the amount of controversy and whingeing generated when a ‘Best Of’ tracklisting is announced.

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It’s a dubious business, calling any band empirically ‘great’. But perhaps one indicator of greatness might be the amount of controversy and whingeing generated when a ‘Best Of’ tracklisting is announced.



That’s certainly the case with “Quarantine The Past”, the Pavement Best Of whose tracklisting was unveiled the other day, around the same time the promo CD arrived in the office. Fairly soon after, the Duke Of Monmouth posted here, “What do you think of the tracklisting of ‘Quarantine The Past’? Can’t believe there’s no ‘Father To A Sister Of Thought’!!!”

Shocking, for sure. And what about “Carrot Rope”, “Fillmore Jive”, “Half A Canyon”, “Rattled By The Rush”, “The Hexx”, “Serpentine Pad”, “Silence Kit”, “We Are Underused”, “We Dance”, “Fame Throwa”, “Stop Breathin”, “Grave Architecture”, “Platform Blues”, “Give It A Day”, “Westie Can Drum”? And so on?

What’s left for “Quarantine The Past” are still 23 generally superb tracks, beginning sentimentally enough – or as sentimental as Pavement could ever be – with “Gold Soundz”, and ending with the droll call-to-arms of “Fight This Generation”. It’s always tempting to make big claims for Pavement as one of the best and, ultimately, most influential bands of the ‘90s; the sort of pompous and sententious claims, tied up in canonical thinking among other things, that the band would probably disdain.

Better then, perhaps, to talk about how happy and stimulating this music still sounds to me; a pleasure which definitely transcends mere nostalgia. One of Pavement’s many haphazard gifts was to engineer a rapprochement between brainy, snarky self-consciousness and daft, ramshackle abandon, and much of the best music here – not least “Unfair”, which might just be my favourite Pavement song – pulls off that trick again and again.

“Unfair” sits in an especially stellar run through the middle of “Quarantine The Past”, also featuring “Here”, “Grounded”, “Summer Babe” and “Range Life”. It’s halted somewhat by “Date w/IKEA”: without stressing over every selection on the album, this seems the most puzzling, possibly necessitated by an obligation to include two Spiral Stairs songs (No complaints about the other, “Two States”).

The thought occurs, actually, that Scott might have had a fair bit to do with this tracklisting, since it notably privileges the earlier phases of the band, finding room for “Mellow Jazz Docent” as well as “Frontwards”, “In The Mouth A Desert”, “Debris Slide”, “Shoot The Singer”, “Trigger Cut” and “Box Elder”.

But then it’s hard to think of good reasons why any of the above shouldn’t have been included, either. Maybe the Best Of should have been an, oh, 6CD set? That’d cover it…

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