Few acts of the last two decades are as difficult to distill onto a single greatest-hits CD as Pavement. You have to account for their genius pop side, their classically rocking side, their prankster punk side, their archly half-assed jam-band side. You have to somehow squeeze five essential albums (and a handful of EPs and singles) into one <80-minute mix. (Tellingly, Matador Records held a competition before the track list was announced to see which Pavement fan could come closest to guessing its contents.)
So it's no wonder if their new greatest-hits album, Quarantine the Past, out this week on Matador/Domino and timed to coincide with the reunion tour that brings the band to Sasquatch! on May 30, seems lacking—it's an impossible task, really; no matter what's included or excluded, someone's going to be disappointed. Even a double-CD might not help. Heavy truth: You really can't ever quarantine the past. So without further ado, let's pick it apart.
The good: Obviously, a lot of the band's ostensible big hits are here—their first breakout track, the inscrutably lovesick "Summer Babe (Winter Version)"; the glum ramble of "Here"; the MTV/major-radio-conquering novelty-that-never-went-stale "Cut Your Hair" (and its duskier spiritual flip side, "Range Life"); the wistfully anthemic "Gold Soundz," which gives this compilation its title and starts it on a terrifically high note; a grip of great numbers from Brighten the Corners, including "Shady Lane," "Stereo," "Embassy Row," and the Spiral Stairs–starring "Date with IKEA"; the late-period single "Spit on a Stranger." There are a couple of well-deserving deeper cuts here, as well—rousing early effort "Box Elder"; "Frontwards" from the transitional Watery, Domestic EP; the band's deadpan secret history of R.E.M., "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence" (from the No Alternative compilation). And, really, any 23 Pavement tracks make a pretty fucking compelling case for them as one of the best bands of their era.
The bad: I know the album is sequenced to space the above-listed favorites out among the band's more oddball cuts, but I kind of wish the tracks had been arranged chronologically, to better trace the band's fitful evolutions and, more often, willfully aimless digressions. I guess "Two States" is here just to help new listeners understand why these guys were once dismissed as a Fall rip-off?
The omitted: It was probably left out for length as much as anything, but I would've loved to see Crooked Rain's epic burnout coda "Fillmore Jive" on here. I get the need to address the band's many moods, but I would've tended away from the weirder sections of their catalog to make way for a few more relatively easy-listening numbers—say, the cod-rapping "Blue Hawaiian," the droned-out drawl of "Rattled by the Rush," the breezily bitter "Zurich Is Stained."
So, is this the Best of Pavement you or I might have assembled? Probably not. And is it really necessary, when you already own all these albums (right?) and you can more easily than ever make your own Pavement playlists for days? Eh... no. But does it have me primed to see these guys goof off live come Memorial Day weekend? Oh, hell yes.