I think it’s about time this album got knocked down a peg. Don’t get me wrong, I love the record – Slanted and Enchanted is a better album than your average band could ever hope to match – but frankly it’s only gotten by all these years by riding on 1. the continued success and improvement of the fantastic band who made it, 2. the “authenticity” of its indie-ness (“real independent rock, maaan!”), and 3. a handful of really great tunes that fill around the merely decent ones. That’s the hard truth of it, really. Malkmus just wasn’t writing really great songs yet, and he wasn’t singing the good ones he wrote here that well either. Let’s take a look at the opener, yeah? I used to love “Summer Babe” because it was just so fuckin’ clever; the smart, melodic fuzz guitar riding casually atop the thrumming bass; that triplet hi-hat fill (you know the one – Steve West, you genius); the perfectly timed backing vocals near the end of the track; the warm summer (duh) vibe… until I realized the whole thing was essentially the same 4 bars repeated ad nauseum, just with one guitar doing its own thing overtop. Can’t unhear it, right? It’s an impressively detailed and musical track, no doubt about it, but it’s not much of a song. And on top of all that Malkmus isn’t singing about much either – not exactly a “Gold Soundz” or a “Grounded” or a “Stereo” or… ah, alright, I’ll stop. It’s a fine song, probably still my favorite here at the end of the day, but it’s also indicative of the album’s (and the band’s) problems at this point in their career. Too much lyrical vagueness, not enough song structure, and an abundance of ideas with not enough maturity to realize them fully. As for other highlights, I’ll list those here:
- “Zurich Is Stained,” easily the second best song here, comes as a necessary respite from the noisy onslaught of the first 5 tracks. Dig the dreamy little guitar, so detuned it drifts along like a pedal steel, and the soft “la la la” part at the end of the chorus. Also contains some of my favorite lyrics of the album: “I can’t sing it strong enough / Cause that kind of strength I just don’t have,” “So what does it mean, a mistake or two / If it’s the kind of mistakes no one can trace?”
- “Perfume-V” is fucking creepy, and reminds me of something Pixies would have written circa Surfer Rosa. These guitars don’t sound like any other on the record – similar to the scratchy, fuzzy tones used before, but pressed closer, more menacing, particularly on the verses. The backing vocals that arrive at the second chorus always catch me off guard, in a good way.
- “Conduit for Sale!” reminds me a bit of the Velvet Underground’s underrated “Murder Mystery” during the verses; a barrage of non sequiturs, paranoid rantings, and verbosity that add up to something expectedly weird. The choruses of “I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’!” are sorta annoying at times, though.
- “Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite at :17” is a solid rock tune with the album’s third-best melody and lovely backround vocals at 1:35 I always find myself coming back to listen to – “sha la la la la laaaaaa…” Good song.
Other moments: “Here” has my favorite lyric of the album (“I was dressed for success / But success it never comes…”); “In the Mouth of a Desert’s” post-choruses with Malkmus wordlessly melodizing with his guitar are quite pretty; “Flame Throwa’s” (keyboard? guitar?) hook is fun, though the last minute bugs me; “Two States” totally baffles me, but it’s pretty fun nonetheless; and “No Life Singed Her” has some demented fuckin’ screaming, and a super cool noise section at 3:00. The only track I’d consider pulling is “Chesley’s Little Wrists,” a lo-fi freakout that doesn’t serve the same purpose falling after “Zurich is Stained” as “Serpentine Pad” did following “Grounded” on Wowee Zowee. Frankly, it’s just kind of annoying.
Ahh, I feel like I’ve been too harsh on an album I like a whole lot. I mentioned earlier that Slanted and Enchanted has earned longevity from its authenticity as a “real” indie record, and I stand by that. But I think that sense of realness helps to capture and signify its time exceptionally well: 1992, California, sunshine-y summer vibe, hazy guitars and humming bass and pot smoke and dazed singing, good friends and good times in the lazy midafternoon. That, above even the music, has helped to solidify the album as a classic. You can listen to it and feel like you’re right there, in the room, as the band is playing simple, loud, charming little pop rock songs just for you. Not a great record – just a really, really, really good one. And play it loud.