The Secret History, Vol. 1
Reviewed by: Max Miller
To quote an old t-shirt, “Pavement ist Rad!” I could talk about how they possessed oodles of charm that distinguished them from the rest of the early ‘90s indie rock boom, or how they were incredibly prolific and able to transition seamlessly between different genres, moods and degrees of seriousness. But, really, when it comes to a rarities comp like The Secret History, Vol. 1, I kind of expect you to be on board the Pavement ship already. If not, this is not the place to start. Go pick up Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (the most accessible entry point in their catalog; although you could just dive in from the start with Slanted and Enchanted).
What dyed-in-the-wool Pavement fans are going to want to know is whether Secret History (and its implied follow-ups) are just a cash-grab on the part of Matador Records. There are 30 songs on this record, and all of them were featured on Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe, the two-disc CD reissue of the group’s seminal debut, which Matador put out in 2002. In fact, on Luxe & Reduxe you also get the four-track Watery, Domestic EP, meaning any hardcore Pavement fan already owns all these tunes and more. But they don’t own them on vinyl.
The Secret History, Vol. 1 appears to be an excuse to sell these songs to the kind of Pavement nut who also swears by listening to music on vinyl. We can debate all night the merits and flaws of vinyl records, but if you’re not one of those wax zealots, you’re effectively being swindled.
Because, frankly, this collection of recordings does not function well as an album. On CD, the listener could skip around, investigating which B-sides were noteworthy (“So Stark (You’re a Skyscraper” or “Baptiss Blacktick,” for example) and which were mostly novelties to be mentally filed and then left alone (“Mercy Snack: The Laundromat,” I’m looking at you). Of course, it’s fairly subjective whether the two Peel Sessions here qualify as life-changing artifacts or forgettable bonus prizes. If you listen to the live version of “In the Mouth a Desert” recorded at the Brixton Academy in ‘92, you may feel as if you vicariously experienced what a Pavement show was like in the early days, or you may just find yourself wanting to hear the studio version, with its massive guitars.
Yes, “Pavement ist Rad.” But The Secret History, Vol. 1 ist überflüssig.
Rating: Bad-Ass (for Pavement); Intolerable (for Matador)