Of all the Pavement albums, Terror Twilight is the least “Pavement-like” and of all the songs on Terror Twilight, “…And Carrot Rope” is the least Pavement-like and as such as a song it perfectly sums up the band.
To some extent, only Pavement fans would follow that logic, in fact Pavement were to the quantum physics of the alternative scene in the Nineties, in that if you said you understood them, you didn’t. Like the Spherical Cow, that’s the kind of comment that only really appeals to those who get excited by and can spot Star Trek references and in-jokes in other films. That’s exactly who Pavement were.
Terror Twilight wasn’t so much a Pavement album as a statement of intent from Stephen Malkmus on his solo career, but it was less noticeable than in most bands because Pavement had never really stood still. From their early days trying to recreate the Fall for the American College Radio Scene, each new Pavement album brought a new direction from the band, except with a sound and style that could only ever be “Pavement.”
Few bands actually go on to have their own adjective. Even with some of the better, more successful bands, their influences and roots define them more than their own output. Nirvana always owed that bit too much debt to the Pixies and the Replacements, who themselves owed much to Big Star, who themselves owed much to the Beatles and so on. While early on, Pavement’s records definitely owed a lot to The Fall, this soon disappeared when Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was released. From then on, there was no holding them back and by the time their last album together, Terror Twilight, was released they had come to be seen as one of the most important Alternative bands of the Nineties and band that could only be described by, “well, you know, sounds like Pavement.”
When Terror Twilight came to be, every Pavement fan knew this was there last and so were probably in a forgiving mood when it didn’t at first meet the heights of their previous releases. But at its heart it was a fun, light-hearted send off that really didn’t take itself seriously. While the sound was far more pop orientated than any Pavement album to date, this couldn’t care less attitude, along with quality output, seemed to be the only consistent thing about the band over their career.
You have to put the album into context. It was a farewell and a final salute before the guys (who all lived in separate States) got back to their family lives. Then right at the end of that album comes a shining moment of pop perfection. The title alone hints at the final fare the well, a kind of “oh and by the way, here’s Carrot Rope.”
This was still an age, probably now forgotten in the last few years, where track order was important. More so in the CD era when albums were listened to in the entirety without the need to turn it over, so the order of tracks needed to keep a listener interested. The first had to be the hook, especially for those who had taken a gamble on the purchase, it had to put you at ease and keep you interested. Then the order of the other songs couldn’t be too slapdash, you couldn’t have too many slower numbers together, the mix had to be right with the faster numbers. But the ending had to make you want to hit the repeat button. As any bloke who has ever tried to woo a potential mate with a compilation tape/CD will tell you, this is not an easy process. You can whittle down songs to the eleven or so you want, but hitting that perfect order, that takes time.
While it might be old age more than anything else, but when you can pick and chose those songs on an album that you like and ignore the rest in a purchase, there is little need for so much attention to the order of tracks and that’s a pity. The bizarre thing about …And Carrot Rope is that while undeniably great, it didn’t invoke the repeat button feeling. Instead, it was the perfect sign off to a fond farewell. Rather than feel “I must listen to that all over again”, you were left with that waving off the relatives at the airport feeling. It was really nice and we must do it again soon.
On any other album that would be frustrating, but this was a goodbye so it was more than fitting and it didn’t actually prevent you from playing the album over again. Just that if you didn’t, you still felt satisfied that all was well with the world, that George Bailey has finally realised it really is a wonderful life.
The old Pavement tones are still there in spades with the record. There’s the obscure, completely made up references such as what exactly is a Carrot Rope? The thing about Pavement lyrics is that there’s no point really trying to figure it out, while you may think you’ve found the answer, when you listen to the song in full you realise that most of it just doesn’t fit into your analysis of the song. Daytime TV psychics are more accurate in predictions than anyone who tries to figure out a Pavement song.
There are also the slight innuendos for those who have a bit of filth in their minds. “Hey little boy would you like to see what’s in my pocket or not?” can take on so many meanings that you wonder if there isn’t something wrong with you rather than the lyrics. And like all good Pavement tracks there’s the Anglophilic references that occasionally creep in, “the wicket keeper is down” has no place coming from the mouth of anyone outside of Surrey or Yorkshire.
So on paper, it’s a standard Pavement track, but on listen it isn’t. The fond farewell is encapsulated buy the opening verse where every band member gets the chance to add to the harmonies. Not unusual for most bands, but for Pavement involvement form other band members tended to be limited to squeaks, squeals, screams and yells, here even Mark Ibold gets to sing.
To some extent it’s a pity that the harmonies don’t last longer than the first verse, but maybe that’s how it should be. Not that this gives Malkmus too much of the spotlight, but that too much of a new and good thing might have been too much for this last track on their last album.
There is no definitive point to start with Pavement, you either get them or you don’t, so irrespective of which track you begin with it’ll be for you or it won’t. But sometimes it can be best just to start at the very end and to work backwards. While taken out of its context, this song may not have as much meaning to the uninitiated, that history cannot detract from what is a genuine, cheerful little pop classic.
You just know in your heart of hearts, that it’s not really a goodbye, just a see you around…maybe.