Matador Records would really like to brighten the corners right now, as they’ve clearly painted themselves into one.
Starting in 2002, the label began reissuing Pavement’s albums in the most spectacular of fashions. Each LP was given a full-blown double-disc treatment, where literally every single one-off, demo, EP, and rarity was put into place, given updated art, thorough liner notes, and just about every possible add-on one could imagine for a reissue outside of an added DVD documentary that highlights the creation of each full-length. For Pavement, the underground standard-bearers that were once (accurately) described as indie rock’s “own, private Beatles” and fetishized to a similar degree (albeit on a much smaller scale), these elaborate reissues not only received critical hosannas and soon became the standard-bearer for what any proper rock album re-release should look like, but they reignited and introduced the group to a generation that likely missed them the first time out, slowly building a new audience that discovered the band just through the reissues alone, paving the way for the band’s eventual reunion tour in 2010.
Yet Matador turned out to be victims of their own generosity, exhuming the band’s archives so thoroughly and completely that by the time they reissued the band’s penultimate album in an expectedly decked-out Nicene Creedence Edition in 2008, the rarities and B-sides they were pulling from actually spanned not only the band’s Brighten the Corners era but also that of Terror Twilight, their gorgeous, weird swan song. In his review of that re-release, our own Matthew Fiander even pondered “if anything remains in the vaults for the inevitable Terror Twilight: The Strange Name Edition“. He’s got a valid point, because as it now stands, there doesn’t appear to be, which is why Matador has gone back to the drawing boards and created The Secret History, Vol. 1, a vinyl-only pressing of the bonus material found on the Luxe & Reduxe reissue of the group’s seminal debut set Slanted & Enchanted.
Actually, not even that statement is accurate, as the group’s lauded Watery, Domestic EP (released a few months after Slated & Enchanted in 1992) worked its way onto that Luxe & Reduxe reissue, but, due to to Matador releasing that as its own standalone vinyl in 2010, it is absent here. So even with that handicap in mind,we are still left with a panoramic snapshot of the group still at their creative peak, here featuring a bevy of rarities, two Peel sessions, and a full set at London’s Brixton Academy from 1992, which features a bunch of Slanted highlights and the occasional glorious one-off (see: Slay Tracks‘ “Box Elder”).
Overall, even with these amendments and a slight rejiggering of the track order, The Secret History, Vol. 1 still provides the listener with a bevy of great material, as Stephen Malkmus was still writing songs at a blazing pace but with a remarkably consistent quality, as so many of the songs from the Slanted sessions (particularly the loner lament “Mercy Snack: The Laundromat” and the amped-up “Baptist Blacktick”) could’ve made their way onto the album proper without anyone noticing. The Peel sessions are also notable given how fully-bodied each song still feels, the moody diss track “Secret Knowledge of Backroads” in particular featuring a clarity that was heretofore unseen by usually-messy/often-wild group, its greatness only amplified by the vastly inferior version that appeared the Silver Jews disc which came out a year after Slanted. Even “Here”, arguably Slanted‘s most identifiable cut, is recreated so perfectly it could easily be mistaken for the original studio version.
The band’s adherence to such strict recreations serves as a delightful contrast to their Brixton Academy show, which at times threatens to go off the rails in a way that only young bands can get away with, messy but in a controlled fashion. “Fame Throwa” getting the greatest stop-start moments as Malkmus’ voice creaks and squeaks as he aims for the higher notes in the second movement, while the ranting at the top of “No Life Signed Her” turns even more manic than it did in the studio version, the volume only fueled by the eager crowd, creating an undeniable energy that is still captured in this set. These bits of mania still contrast nicely with more carefully-structured moments like their set-closing take on “In the Mouth of a Desert”, arguably the band’s finest early pop achievement.
Overall, though, this is material and history that has already been covered and celebrated by fans and journalists alike many times over. As a vinyl-only reissue, Matador is focused a on a very specific and very curious quadrant of consumers, but those that need what is the first in many likely volumes are assuredly still going to get their money’s worth.
Now, Matador, while I have you on the line: about that Terror Twilight reissue …