As I’m sure you’re aware, Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London flat this past Saturday, July 23. She was gifted with a towering voice, a sharp wit, and an artist’s impulse to not do what anyone else wanted her to. In this era of pre-packaged pop songstresses, hers was a raw talent; her music deftly mixed jazz, R&B, and 60’s pop. She released her debut album Frank in 2003, and her Stateside breakthrough came with her second and final album, 2006’s Back to Black (both released in the U.S. in 2007). Back to Black was everywhere four years ago. Not being the sort to listen to pop radio, I remember the very first time I heard Winehouse: I was at a Borders (which is also gone now, or soon to be), browsing the music section, and I decided to throw on the headphones and take a listen to this Brit singer I’d been hearing about. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I heard. Winehouse looked thin and serious on the cover, but the voice that emanated from those headphones was big, soulful. I was sold instantly.
So were many millions of others. Back to Black garnered five Grammy Awards and carried the instant classic “Rehab.” Winehouse ushered in a new wave of British soul divas including the likes of Duffy and Adele, the latter of whom has been experiencing similar levels of ubiquity this year. In the five years following Back to Black, though, Winehouse didn’t record another album. She wasn’t just a bold, terrific singer, she was also a troubled young woman struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. The tabloids squealed and squawked about her personal life with mean-spirited glee, as they are wont to do. No matter her talent or the quality of her music, it seemed to many that since she was a junkie, she deserved to be jeered and laughed at and put on display. She didn’t help herself by putting up odd YouTube videos and stumbling through barely-there performances.
Album reviews are divided into six sections: MAXIMUM GOBBLING for the masterpieces; GOBBLE IT for the merely great; WORTH GOBBLING for other good releases; GOBBLE? for those albums which aren’t really good or bad, just sort of okay; DO NOT GOBBLE for the shitty; and RUN, DON’T GOBBLE! for the awful.
QUARANTINE THE PAST: THE BEST OF PAVEMENT
As with most compilations, you could quibble as to why Quarantine the Past exists; Pavement only had five albums, and all the early EP’s were compiled on Westing (By Musket & Sextant). But let’s not quibble, shall we? After more than a decade, Pavement, the seminal 90’s indie band, came together for a reunion tour this year, and Quarantine the Past serves as both a celebration for long-time fans and a primer for new listeners. It’s all here, from Pavement at their most accessible (the sing-along almost-hit “Cut Your Hair”) to the band at their most obscure (“Unseen Power of the Picket Fence,” a track singing the praises of R.E.M.); from ephemera (EP cuts like the noisy “Debris Side”) to essentials (like the majestic “Grounded”). And yet for all the weirdness, all the guitar fuzz and noise, Pavement never lose their keen sense of melody. Leader Stephen Malkmus’ lyrics are largely inscrutable; what are you to make of a line like, “And all the sterile striking, it defends an empty dock you cast away”? What you’re to make of it, I presume, is what you make of it. The words may sound nonsensical out of context, but in the way that Malkmus’ voice intertwines with the music and plays off of it, they convey all you need to know. Like any great band, Pavement means different things to different people, and it’s up to you to fill in the blanks. My Pavement will likely always be the Pavement of the 1992 masterpiece Slanted and Enchanted, represented here by several great cuts including my two favorites, the oddly wistful “Here” and the glorious “Summer Babe (Winter Version).” But it all works, and despite the growths and strong personalities of each of their albums, it all sits side-by-side perfectly; I hesitate to call it a document because documents are boring, locked rigorously into certain perceptions of time. That’s not Pavement. Pavement remain free of such shackles, their music alive and full of color after all these years.