So much has been written about Slanted and Enchanted
(albeit relatively little of it in these pages) that there's no point in attempting to take the disc at face value. Fortunately, Matador's bumper-sized, bonus-packed (many would say "bloated") anniversary edition isn't meant
to be taken at face value; it's one of those luxury nostalgia products that become virtually irresistible once you've hit the downward slope of your twenties. Matador's thinking works a little like this: you'll buy it now because
you bought it ten years ago. You probably haven't listened to your original copy in a few years, anyway, unless you're one of those indie rock elitists who keep a small pile of CDs enshrined within inches of the stereo. Nope, it's probably in a box in your basement, or buried in the nether regions of your CD collection, or was claimed by an ex-girlfriend following a messy breakup. Whatever -- the point is, it's a pain in the ass to find it, so now that you have a little more disposable income, it's time to buy a shiny new digitally remastered version with a fancy slipcover and a thick booklet and a whole disc of extra material. Hey, man, it's a fucking indie-rock touchstone
or something. I heard that the editor of a rival online publication actually wet his pants
the day that S&E
arrived in the mail...(though the two events may not be connected)
Cynicism notwithstanding, S&E has earned its canonization. Like Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds, it's such a pervasively influential record that newcomers inevitably feel as if they've heard it before, so thoroughly have its ideas been adopted, adapted and improved upon. From the fuzzed-up VU-isms of "Summer Babe (Winter Version)" and the Sonic Youth/Pixies collision of "No Life Singed Her" to the daylight Fall robbery of "Two States", the original Slanted and Enchanted embodies everything that is good and glorious about indie rock. It's almost comforting to think about the dissonant goodness of "Loretta's Scars" sharing space with the wacked-out noodly weirdness of "Fame Throwa". If you're in your thirties (or beyond), it'll all remind you of a happier, simpler time when you drank a lot more and laughed at people trapped by mortgages, bills and children.
The first disc is padded by B-sides, previously-unreleased session material and a quartet of Peel Session tracks. Of these, the worst that can be said is that they add nothing of importance to the Slanted and Enchanted experience. But you knew that, didn't you? If you're a rabid-enough Pavement fan to care whether you own these or not, you already do.
Disc two includes the entire Watery, Domestic EP, B-sides, more Peel Session material and the big draw, a twelve-song live set recorded at London's Brixton Academy in 1992. Again, if owning this material means something significant to you, you probably already have it. There are no revelations here, save for the fact that Pavement is -- shock -- far rougher live, and could make some truly glorious noise when everything clicked (and we knew that). Still, it's nice to have handy, cleaned-up live versions of "Angel Carver/Mellow Jazz Docent" and the superlative "Box Elder". The football-hooligan version of "Two States" is a keeper too, and you might get an "oh, yeah, I'd forgotten about that" laugh from all the audience whistle-blowing after "In the Mouth A Desert". Still, the whole point of the lo-fi aesthetic is that you're getting a performance as loose and unstructured as a live gig -- so supplementing an album like Slanted and Enchanted with a live gig in which many of the same songs are performed is the sort of thing you can only get away with...well, on a celebratory special edition like this one.
As is almost always the case with expanded reissues, you don't really need these fannish extras unless you've seriously considered having Malkmus's face tattooed on your ass; sure, they're nice to have, but the original material speaks volumes on its own. The original Slanted and Enchanted sounds almost frighteningly immediate, as if you listened to it yesterday...and given Pavement's far-reaching influence, you probably did, in some weird musical-influence Six-Degrees-of-Stephen-Malkmus sort of way. It's a different experience today, of course: you're ten years older, and instead of concentrating on getting laid or finding a real job or passing a math test or whatever you were doing in 1992, you might wonder whether Vanilla Ice influenced "Summer Babe"'s first line, or have to look up "Conduit For Sale!"'s lyrics to see if they really mention the late Richard Harris (they don't), or wonder what would've happened if notoriously acid-fried original drummer Gary Young hadn't -- ahem -- "left" the band when he did. Whatever this new Slanted and Enchanted makes you think, whatever memories it evokes, enjoy it; few albums leave such an indelible mark on music culture, and those that do are worth buying twice.
Once you've bought it, though, redouble your efforts to find something new. Buy albums by bands you've never heard before, bands you've always wanted to try, bands with great cover-art -- whatever it takes to get some new blood into the mix. The expanded Slanted and Enchanted is a suitably reverent tribute to a ground-breaking release, but it's also a gateway to old-fogeyhood.