Pavement – Watery, Domestic (1992)

You just can’t go in the studio toss out four “distinguishable, hummable songs” (Christgau) and call it an album. You can’t just invite your two buddies let one of them play bass and the other just basically do nothing and make them official members of the band afterwards. You can’t just have your drummer make a head-stand on the drum stool while tracking his parts. And lastly, you can’t deface an semi-iconic album cover of an obscure brass band’s debut and make it your own album cover. You can’t just do that, even if the said horny band’s album blows (reportedly, it does). Because you might hurt people’s feelings and the band might sue you afterwards, on grounds of unoriginality and claim royalty for the artwork you stole because your album became a mega-platinum hit by the year-end. (Only in the case of Watery, Domestic, or any Pavement album for that matter, selling half a million units is the equivalent of a unicorn.)

Technically, you can’t do all of the above—unless you’re Stephen Malkmus and your co-conspirator turns out to be someone who goes by “Spiral Stairs”. And your band is called Pavement and the year is 1992. Yes, because Nirvana’s Nevermind just became the punk-rock’s biggest crossover hit since bread came slice. And Pavement’s ramshackle crew of 1992 did just all of the above. Because they’re Pavement.

They called that EP Watery, Domestic, which according to Robert Christgau was rumored to mean “watered-down, not wild.” On the contrary, there’s nothing watered down in the EP’s grating ear piercing intro: the annoyingly lovely distorted notes that opens “Texas Never Whispers.” While there’s something “domestic” about the songs’ nostalgic lyrics in “Frontwards” and “Lions (Linden),” which tells about growing up in Stockton, California—the ’70s, empty homes, football teams, spillways, stolen rims, and according to Malkmus in one interview, girls in tight jeans and cameltoes—the music isn’t something that can be called “not wild.”

“Lions (Linden)” has some of the best lines from the album. The song tells about good urban planning (“Every building same height, every street a straight line”) and football—something we, from the Third World, couldn’t relate to—and an irrigation system that’s “never been inspected when the government’s elected,” which is something we could.

If that isn’t interesting enough, how about this: “Shoot the Singer (1 Sick Verse)” builds a lovely closer around a story where some guy cream his pants. I want to add a lot more about the songs in Watery, Domestic but unfortunately, can’t—there are only four cuts in the album.

Watery, Domestic has cleaner better production than Slanted & Enchanted, but it isn’t something the corporate guys would call pop music nor is it something the hipster kids would call corporate rock. It’s not squeaky clean radio-ready like Nirvana’s Nevermind. The songs are also more melodic than in their last album, but there’s nothing not wild or safe about it. Remember, this is Pavement in 1992, not Foo Fighters circa 2001 and beyond.

You can zoom in on this photo and see Gary Young’s well-toned beer belly.


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