Beer and Pavement

When Indie Rockers Grow Old

Posted in Records by Zac on March 24, 2010

When indie rockers grow old, they begin to resemble their not-so-indie forefathers. They do things like put out greatest hits records and break from their bands to collaborate with the hippest of collaborators. Pavement did one of these. The Shins’ James Mercer did the other.

Quarantine the Past is Pavement’s attempt at a greatest hits 1 collection. It’s really a great collection, but I’m completely biased2. They give you all the hits as well as a few hidden gems that need to be polished after all those years in the safe deposit box. Revisiting the two selected tracks from the Perfect Sound Forever EP3 was a good enough reason to blow my kid’s college fund on this bugger4.

Of course, this is what a band does to connect a younger generation to their catalog in one, affordable release5. Kids will pick up this LP and get a taste of what Pavement is like. Of course, as with all greatest hit collections, they will miss out on what makes the albums so cherished to long-time fans6. A selection from a band’s oeuvre never does it the same justice as the entire catalog can provide.

Quaratineine does what it can. It spread the tracks evenly among Pavement’s five LP’s as well as a few selections from EP’s and comps7. One cannot possible grapple with all that is Pavement from this record, but it’s a start. Like the collection of Nick Drake tracks I bought after watching that Volkswagen ad8, it only scratches the surface of what is to be consumed. Quarantine does this admirably, but is limited by the same thing that limits all greatest hits collections, especially from a band with no actual hits9.

James Mercer has been around the block, but his band The Shins has only been known for the past decade. That might not be long enough to garner the credibility of a Pavement10, but it is enough to earn a shot at recording an album with one of the industry’s elite producers in Danger Mouse. Sure, Beck and that guy from Sparklehorse who committed suicide have recently done the same with Danger Mouse, but Mercer brings his own style to the Mouse’s droppings.

Jangly guitars, emotive vocals over cool, hip-hop beats, blips, bleeps, and plenty 70′s soul accoutrement equal Broken Bells. It’s chill11. It’s crossover.  It’s sort of boring and forgettable. Unlike the bass-in-your-face of the Beck album, Danger Mouse and Mercer just put the listener to sleep. Sure, any track released from this LP will be a hit on adult contemporary alternative radio and it will undoubtedly win a Grammy12, but it’s a bit of a snooze.

I sort of imagine that Danger Mouse heard the soundtrack to Judgment Night13 and thought that was the future of music. Ever since, he has found ways to mix rap with rock into this new hybrid bound to make loads of cheddar. The trouble is that it’s been overdone. He does have a unique ear for pop music, but Beck was doing this a long time ago before he lost his way14. That and Mercer’s work didn’t need a dance beat to be good. I’m OK with the collaboration, but it doesn’t blow my mind the way it would have for many had it been featured ad nausea on MTV in 1999.

In conclusion, indie rockers are just the new rockers. They release greatest hits collections and stray from their bands to make a unique sound with the hot producer. It all works with the same success rate as it always has15. It’s OK, but it doesn’t compare to the work they’ve done in the past.

Notes:
1Or misses. I mean, really, did Pavement ever have a hit? Nope. Their songs all sounded like hits that would never appeal to the masses. So, maybe they are the greatest “hits” with the quotation marks that you can undoubtedly see. I’ll stop now.
2If you haven’t figured this out, just wait.
3Songs I had forgotten even existed as I am way more obsessed with Pavement’s five proper albums than I am any of their singles, EP’s, or compilation contributions.
4Because, let’s face it, the reason Pavement releases enhanced versions of their albums and now a greatest hits collection is that their fanbase are now in their mid-thirties with good jobs thanks to their college degrees and lots of discretionary funds.
5See The Doors, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Abba, etc.
6Which was mostly ridiculing each release until the next one came out. “Wowee Zowee is a piece of shit compared to Crooked Rain.” [flash forward two years] “Gawd! Paevement has sold-out with Brighten the Corners. I wish they’d do another album like Wowee Zowee. That was their best record so far.” And so on.
7As an avid mix tape maker in the nineties, I really appreciate the time and care that was obviously take in putting this album together. However, at the conclusion of every song, I’m already humming/singing the opening to the next track on the original album sequence.
8I also bought a VW primarily because of that ad.
9I prefer “misses” as I once used in a title for a mix I made for a girlfriend.
10I realize that this is ludicrous as The Shins have been around as long as Pavement were together. The difference is that Pavement broke up and furthered their legend by doing nothing. Mercer should have considered this route one of the two times he fired band mates.
11I refuse to use the term “chillwave” for two reasons: 1) I don’t really know what chill-wave is. 2) I don’t think this constitutes as chillwave, brah.
12This gives you some indication of how I feel about the Grammies.
13Precursor to rap-rock craze.
14See Midnight Vultures
15It’s C work. It passes. No one will quit listening to them. It won’t increase their audience size or demographic. It does nothing to advance their personal brand.

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