Eventually, a compromise was reached with Kannberg leading the way on a revised running order that toggles between the outré and the confectionary—beginning with the Beatles-esque majesty of “Spit on a Stranger” before segueing into the banjo-driven, stoner-Beat poetry of “Folk Jam” and then returning to the austere and moving balladry of “You Are a Light.” This has been Terror Twilight as we’ve known it for 22 years: a strange admixture of the catchiest and most unsettling music of Pavement’s career, culminating appropriately enough with the lovely and ludicrous “Carrot Rope,” the indie-rock sequel to “My Ding-A-Ling” that nobody but Stephen Malkmus recognized we needed.
The vinyl edition of the new reissue restores Godrich’s original running order, and it certainly makes for a different experience: One side Hawkwind and one side E.L.O. The counterfactual sequencing of old LPs has become a trope of the reissue industry and makes for a diverting thought exercise, but this rearrangement does not amount to an improvement. As much as Malkmus and Godrich had become a creative quorum of two on the Terror Twilight sessions, it may have been Spiral Stairs who was, in that moment, seeing the appeal of the fractious group most clearly of all. “I was always to try to make the best Pavement record possible,” he writes in his essay. And so he did.
Save for periodic reunion shows, Terror Twilight signaled the end. The band toured the LP relentlessly and live versions on the reissue find the band in fine form on rip-throughs of everything from the group-oldie “Frontwards” to CCR’s “Sinister Purpose.” But Malkmus was done with Pavement as a dynamic creative force. As Steve West says in the liner notes: “I think Stephen got to that point where he wanted to move on to a different bunch of people and be able to play with people who were much more confident musicians. I think he did the right thing for him creatively and more power to him. And I know it was a hard thing for him to do. Maybe he could have been more like huggy-huggy about it, but he was really honest about it, and I respect him for that. It was the right time to exit because this album is still creative and different.”
Too creative and different as it turned out to make Pavement the American Radiohead. Alternately diffident and insinuating, Terror Twilight was reviewed with genial confusion and peaked at No. 95 on the Billboard Charts, far from the breakthrough which would have justified the budget. Kannberg compares the record to the Replacements’ polarizing, desultory final LP All Shook Down, when Paul Westerberg consolidated his agency while functionally breaking up his band. That comparison holds true as far as it goes, though musically, it’s closer to Combat Rock, the final Clash album which found Joe Strummer and Mick Jones gloriously and fatally marooned between their most experimental and star-making impulses. It remains a fascinatingly ambivalent note to finish on for one of the most influential indie rock bands of their era, and this reissue, while not necessarily better than the original 1999 release, provides enough context to understand its odd bathos in a new way. It was the album that brought Pavement full circle: dressed for success, but never quite sure if they wanted the job.
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