The Pavement re-release juggernaut continues with their third album getting the treatment this month, now re-branded as Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition. Following in the steps of the exhaustive first two re-issues (Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: LA's Desert Origins), Wowee Zowee has been expanded with a re-remastered version of the classic 1997 album, accompanied by an assortment of B-sides, demos and live tracks from the period.
After the relative radio-friendly hits of Crooked Rain, Wowee Zowee was a relative critial and commercial disappointment on it's release, and the band retreated for a two years before releasing a follow up. In retrospect it is quite possibly the best Pavement album, finding the near perfect balance of the wacky schizophrenia of their early albums with the crafted 24 track song writing of their later albums Brighten The Corners and Terror Twilight. We can only imagine what extended titles are in store for those two.
Eclecticism is the name of the game with Wowee Zowee, and literally handfuls of different styles are covered. From the beautiful opening acoustic chords of We Dance, the music hall sounds of Motion Suggests Itself, Spiral Stairs' trippy Western Homes, or just the straight-up greatness of Black Out, Father To A Sister Of Thought, AT&T or countless others, this is an album that's as hard to define as a collection of Ween rarities.
For all the variation however, this is an album that works superbly. The songs play off each other and make a cohesive, balanced whole - with the highlights enhanced by the lighter, fun numbers.
And so we move on to the bonus material. B-sides from the album's singles (Rattled By The Rush and Father To A Sister Of Thought) start things off, and the Pacific Trim EP is a genuine bonus - recorded to coincide with an Australian tour, this release features all 4 tracks of the Rare EP - including notable mentions for vinyl-only I Love Perth and lead track Give It A Day. A cover of the Descendents It's A Hectic World is disappointing, and rambling tracks like Soul Food serve to highlight Pavement's habit of wandering off into musical cul-de-sacs. A demo of We Dance overlooks the natural beauty of the track, highlighting instead Malkmus' tounge-in-cheek English accent for a song which theories have suggested was influenced - either as a homage or pastiche - by Malkmus' friendship with some of the original Brit Poppers, including Damon Albarn (clearly influenced by Pavement in the mid 90's) and Wire fan Justine Fleischman (a former member of Malkmus' current band The Jicks).
Deeper into disc two a handful of tracks recorded on that same Australian tour showcase the band at their best, with off-kilter humor peeling away to uncover musical magic - illustrated most clearly by Box Elder, which recovers from near disaster to highlight how great this track is - from the often overlooked Westing (By Musket & Sextet) compilation.
One thing this album does bring up is how these re-releases monsters perform as self-contained albums. Is there ever such a thing as too much? The original was always long (56 minutes and 18 songs) and it could be argued that it was already sprawling (check out the re-ordered version here) and it is certainly front loaded with the absolute best-of-the-best tracks. At 50 songs and 156 minutes this new edition certainly adds a lot more to that mix, leaving no doubt that the best comes first - as although there are certainly some gems in the bonus material they never equal the epic heights set by the first two handfuls of tracks off the original.
Should this review rate the album as a whole? Or the original album as a whole, with the disposable extra of 32 bonus tracks? As a devout Pavement fan I'd always choose to have more, but if I was trying to convert a rookie to their majesty this would certainly not be the place to start.
I'm going to plump for something in between on this one, as although it is one of my favourite albums, I'm speculating that it is unlikely I'll be flipping on disc two all that often. But with the age of playlists and compilations upon us Pavement have delivered an ideal gift: A classic album with a selection box on the side.