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Posted on March 15th, 2010 (2:05 pm) by Tim Gilman

Disclaimer: The above score reflects the merits of Quarantine the Past as a suitable introduction to Pavement more than the quality of the music contained on the album. The score would be much higher if just the music were taken into consideration, but you probably don't need another website telling you how awesome Pavement is.

I have a strong recollection of purchasing my first Pavement album way back in March of 2007 (you know, dinosaur times). The deluxe edition of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (the album so nice they named it twice) was on sale at my local Newbury Comics, and at the very economical price of $13 for 49 songs I had no excuse not to finally check out the band that supposedly changed the face of independent rock back when I was listening to my dad's Three Dog Night cassettes. I played the album when I got home and listened to every song without wanting to skip anything - a rare occurrence for any album, let alone one with 49 songs spanning two CDs. To this day, it's still difficult for me to pick a favorite song on the whole album. I could make a case for several songs depending on the day, ranging from Pavement classics like “Cut Your Hair” and “Range Life” to previously unreleased, tossed-off tracks like “All My Friends” and “Same Way of Saying,” but it will never be possible for me to make a definitive statement about which song on the album I think is the best.

That's the sort of sentiment that most Pavement fanatics can agree with. When it comes to Pavement songs (and Pavement albums), it's difficult to pick favorites. Sure, there are some near-universally praised songs, but I'm willing to bet that if you asked a group of Pavement fans for lists of their top five Pavement songs, very few lists would perfectly match. Some might gravitate toward the messy, Slanted and Enchanted-era sound that first gained the band recognition, while others might prefer the more coherent songs found on Brighten the Corners. Some might even prefer the Spiral Stairs-penned songs to those written by principal songwriter Stephen Malkmus. Luckily, Pavement have given us a wide variety of songs to choose from on Quarantine the Past: the noisy beginnings, the mellow endings, and everything in between.

When Quarantine the Past was first announced earlier this year, Pavement stated that the collection would dig deeper than the singles. The band wasn’t lying: quite a few singles are left out of the compilation. Obviously, hindsight is a benefit of releasing a compilation like this ten years after calling it quits. Far removed from the band they were in the 90s, the members of Pavement have finally reconvened and chosen these 23 songs to be included on this compilation, presumably because they feel these songs best represent their career and serve as a good introduction to those new to the band. While this is for the most part true, several inclusions are questionable and a couple songs should have flat-out been omitted in favor of more deserving songs.

After 21 straight songs of arguably indispensable Pavement, the album ends on a very odd note with “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” and “Fight this Generation.” The lone B-side inclusion of the album, the esoteric “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” is a silly tribute to R.E.M. and more of a novelty than staple, and as such it's a little tough for a Pavement newbie to get through. Given Pavement's reputation as masters of the B-side, it's surprising that the acquired taste of “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” was chosen in favor of other, more enjoyable non-album tracks. If Pavement wanted to include “Unseen Power” in order to give props to their influences, either their cover of Echo and the Bunnymen's “The Killing Moon” or, coincidentally, R.E.M.'s “Camera” would have served as a more accessible B-side inclusion. And if the band just wanted to include a B-side for the hell of it, one would think the insanely catchy “Harness Your Hopes” would be the obvious choice.

Like “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” before it, “Fight this Generation” is a questionable inclusion and an even more questionable choice for album closer. Most Pavement albums end in a particularly memorable fashion (see Crooked Rain's “Fillmore Jive” and Brighten the Corners' “Fin”), but “Fight this Generation” concludes the collection rather unceremoniously. Some may argue that the song's inclusion exemplifies Pavement's penchant for not meeting or caring to meet expectations; perhaps Pavement knows their reputation as strong album finishers and just wanted to yet again screw with expectations. But if they weren't consciously trying to buck that trend, then choosing the song to close out the album is a very strange decision. If anything, it seems like it was included just because Pavement often played it live during their original tenure. Whatever the reasons for their inclusion, the compilation's last two songs are likely to turn off many new fans, which is especially frustrating considering a small change in the track listing could have easily fixed this problem.

Even besides those two songs, plenty of Pavement fans will be up in arms over what should and shouldn't have been included on Quarantine the Past. Despite the high number of songs on the compilation, there are some dubious selections and unfair omissions. For example, “Embassy Row” seems like a rather arbitrary song to put on the album (why that and not a different song from Brighten the Corners, like “Old to Begin” or “We are Underused”?) and its presence poses the question: Why were four songs from Brighten the Corners included but only two from the much longer and arguably better Wowee Zowee? And while Terror Twilight is probably Pavement's least revered album, surely more than one song could have been included on the compilation instead of the five songs from both Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Why not include “The Hexx” or “...and Carrot Rope” instead of “Heaven Is a Truck” or “In the Mouth a Desert'? While these issues are somewhat trivial (as previously stated, lists of best Pavement songs are highly subjective), they all raise the same point: can one really summarize Pavement's career on only one CD?

And therein lies the problem with the idea of a compilation like this. As the band behind this music Pavement do a decent job of providing a summary of their career on Quarantine the Past, but any passionate Pavement fan could have done just as good a job. Chances are if you're reading this and aren't already a Pavement enthusiast, you know at least one who would be more than happy to spread the gospel of Pavement by filling a blank CD or your iPod with their favorite Pavement songs. The result would be fairly similar to Quarantine the Past, and it would be free! But if you don't know anyone who likes Pavement and are still curious about all the fuss, you could do much worse than this compilation. It's a solid introduction to both former- and latter-day Pavement, which differ a great deal in sound. Pavement and Matador Records have also made sure to release the album at a low price (on both CD on vinyl), providing even more incentive for Pavement virgins to check out what they've been missing before seeing them live on this summer's festival circuit.

Track List:
1. Gold Soundz
2. Frontwards
3. Mellow Jazz Docent
4. Stereo
5. In The Mouth A Desert
6. Two States
7. Cut Your Hair
8. Shady Lane / J Vs. S
9. Here
10. Unfair
11. Grounded
12. Summer Babe (Winter Version)
13. Range Life
14. Date W / IKEA
15. Debris Slide
16. Shoot The Singer
17. Spit On A Stranger
18. Heaven Is a Truck
19. Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite At :17
20. Embassy Row
21. Box Elder
22. Unseen Power Of The Picket Fence
23. Fight This Generation

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

77 / 100
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