The opening sentence "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…" from the Dickens classic A Tale Of Two Cities best summarises Pavement's atmosphere when they made their fifth and final album, Terror Twilight Farewell Horizontal.
Blur had recently credited the band as the primary influence for their self-titled 1997 LP two years earlier; Nigel Godrich, who had just finished producing Radiohead's OK Computer, was on board as the producer and accepted the job without having met the band or seen them perform.
Not only that, Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood would play the Harmonica on "Platform Blues" and "Billie". The LP itself, whilst not a big seller like OK Computer or Blur, would comfortably enter the top twenty in the UK album chart.
However, as the LP title, Terror Twilight Farewell Horizontal represents the "short span between sunset and dusk; … the most dangerous time in traffic, it's when most accidents happen…" things got so bad that there were not only accidents; there was a fatality: Pavement. Following Terror Twilight Farewell Horizontal release, Pavement would split up in 1999 and not reunite until 2010 for a world tour. Whether it was the fact that only material written by frontman Malkmus was included on this LP (which wasn't the case with previous Pavement albums) that caused the strains and tensions at their late live shows (Coachella and their then final show at the London Brixton Academy) is debatable; the thing to remember is that Terror Twilight Farewell Horizontal and 1999 was not all bad for Pavement. After all, in that same year, Pavement introduced The White Stripes to the world as their main support act.
Opening with "Spit on a Stranger", the listener is introduced to jangly ballad guitar riffs not too dissimilar to those on REM's "Everybody Hurts", which then gradually becomes more upbeat, happier, and pleasant and is anything but moribund. There was always an element of 90's Americana in American indie, and rock bands sound like Pavement, and Terror Twilight Farewell Horizontal also pays homage to this sound.
"You Are a Light" does this well whilst also going off on its own bizarre experimental trip with absurd lyrics "Who was it that said the world was mainly all divorces and spare change?" and "Watch out for the gipsy children in the electric dresses. They're insane. I hear they live in crematoriums and smoke your remains". Whilst "Platform Blues" begins life as a bluesy, Radiohead inspired "Electioneering",; it gets grungier and rockier from the mid-point. Finally, "Speak, See, Remember" does something similar, which references the LP title and points out the limits of a deity: "God loves you, but what could he do?"
The most instant and mainstream songs include "Major Leagues" with its soft, delicate and soothing ambience and the playout "Carrot Rope". The longest (and penultimate) track is called "The Hexx". A five and a half minute track that often opened at late Pavement shows with a haunting, unnerving introduction. The following lyric, "My Palestinian nephew, got his face blown off in a dusty craft…" is hard to place. Seldom little Pavement activity on the Middle East has been publicly recorded other than Malkmus praising Israeli electronic duo Red Axes and Malkmus playing solo with his band at the Barby club in Tel Aviv in 2012. This mystery makes "The Hexx" an even more exciting listen in 2022.
"Folk Jam" impresses with the banjo, and country indie/folk feel pleasant experimentation. The poignancy of Malkmus singing "Irish folk tales scare the shit out of me" is impossible to ignore. "Billie" unexpectedly changes from a MOR guitar-led song into Captain Beefheart experimentation during the chorus "Sue the fortune-teller. Rue the rising tide. General Washington. Patented that skull, throw him out".
Whilst the songs overall on Terror Twilight Farewell Horizontal are more polished and tuned compared to those on previous offerings, they are still exciting, innovative and conceived with passion. Whilst there was tension behind the scenes and several nails in the groups' coffin were being sealed during the recording sessions, the eleven original tracks and demos, B-sides, outtakes and unreleased material, including "Be the Hook", remain immortal. And whilst the original track order didn't need to be reimagined (it is on the new non-CD versions), Nigel Godrich deserves credit for his efforts to create a "straighter" Pavement album and for attempting to bring Pavement to a wider audience.