Historically, Pavement's Wowee Zowee, first released in 1995, can be viewed as a bridge, of sorts, between the band's first pair of loveably ramshackle Matador full-lengths and their slicker, more controlled final two. It seemed they had outgrown the signature lo-fi snootiness that landed them on the indie rock throne in the first place but were still not ready to settle into any one style. The original version of WZ was intentionally scattershot and, as a result, difficult to put one's finger on. Frontman Stephen Malkmus combined some of his catchiest melodies with his goofiest lyrics ("My heart is made of gravy," etc.), while the band's music moved willy-nilly from winsome, Big Star-esque balladry ("We Dance") to aggressive, balls-out guitar rock that could just as easily be seen as a capitulation to the then-still-current "grunge" movement as a parody of it ("Flux = Rad").
Of course, in the words of Malkmus role model Lou Reed, those were different times. The feeling of humorously agitated young adults with nothing very big to focus their agitation upon seems quaint indeed in our current war-torn international landscape -- at least as quaint as an album like Jefferson Airplane's Soldiers must have seemed back in the Clinton '90s. And while Pavement's smirky smarminess was capable of being an irritant even to their fans back in the day, it can sometimes seem barely tolerable a decade on, which goes double for much of the material on the bonus disc.
Alternate renditions of several songs (both live and in the studio) come off as merely smug and self-satisfied, if not completely self-indulgent. A few of the outtakes, notably the School House Rock cover of "No More Kings" and the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Australophile anthem "I Love Perth," are prime Pavement. Still and all, for a band whose influence remains legion, Wowee Zowee sounds oddly dated.
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