In 1995, Pavement Got Weird (And Anti-Commercial) With ‘Wowee Zowee’

1995 was a year of beginnings and endings in music. That year, the Ramones released their final (and not very good) album Adios Amigos!, while Blink-182 released their debut Cheshire Cat. That was pop punk’s past and future shaking hands. Sleater-Kinney dropped their debut as well, the album before Janet Weiss joined the band as the drummer. Radiohead hit us with The Bends, which would have been a fine choice for this article. Also debuting that year? Sugar Ray, who released the lamely-named album Lemonade and Brownies. This was a different sounding Sugar Ray. They were basically an aggro rock band. I remember them from the soundtrack of Road Rash 64. However, the album I have chosen to write about is Pavement’s third release, Wowee Zowee.

I did not intend to make this series just me writing about albums I’m really into. Obviously, I want to write about albums I’m familiar with, but I’m trying to capture something about music in each year. Wowee Zowee is part of that, but also I kind of had to write about an album I have displayed on my wall. Pavement is my favorite band, and they are arguably the quintessential ‘90s indie rock band. And while it’s only their third-best album, Wowee Zowee is probably their most-interesting album.

Pavement’s first full-length was Slanted and Enchanted, which was excellent, but that was a lo-fi band built around an unpredictable drummer. For their second release – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain – they replaced drummer Gary Young with Steve West and added Mark Ibold on bass. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is an all-time great album. It made the band buzzworthy. “Cut Your Hair” got MTV play. It even got Beavis & Butthead play. Wowee Zowee was the follow up to Pavement’s greatest (commercial) success. It also led people to wonder at the time if Pavement was afraid of success.

Wowee Zowee definitely has a different vibe from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. It’s a pretty weird album. It’s ragged, rambling, and lo-fi, but not entirely. People like to focus on songs like “Brinx Job” or “Serpentine Pad” when talking about how strange Wowee Zowee turned out, but what makes it so weird is that those songs are interspersed with songs like “We Dance” – which opens the album – and “Father to a Sister of a Thought.” It feels like Pavement was throwing together whatever they wanted to. Is the sound cohesive? Maybe not, but I really dig it.

Wowee Zowee is an album that benefits from being listened to as a whole. It feels strange to just sit down and listen to, say, “Best Friend’s Arm,” but hearing it within an album context serves those oddities well. Some like to compare the sound of Wowee Zowee to Slanted and Enchanted, but it really isn’t in the same vein, even if it does have a stripped-down sound in many instances. The album is 18 songs and 55 minutes long. Most of them could never dream of radio play. This is a great album.

In 1995, Pavement was one of the go-to bands on the indie rock scene. It was a noteworthy event when they released Wowee Zowee. It was definitely an album that generated conversation. Now, people view it as a weird, but great, release. At the time, it seems like a career misstep. Pavement would be fine. Their legacy is intact. It feels like Pavement, even if it changed what the feel of Pavement was. Maybe we can dance together.

About Chris Morgan

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