Perfect Sound Forever by Rob Jovanovic
Get It From the Library
ell, one thing is for certain about this book—they got the title right. Taken from the title of their third 10” single—the last before debut album Slanted and Enchanted permanently changed the face of indie rock—Pavement’s sound really was nothing short of perfect. A delicious California sun-baked afterglow that could still conjure up a nasty temper, the sound was aptly summed up in an included ’91 SPIN review of the single: “Listening to Pavement is more like trying to listen to three radio stations at once: One is playing Simon & Garfunkel, one is playing the Bobby Fuller Four and the third one’s just static.” This was the sound that would be held as a benchmark for an entire generation of white-boy blues, and for damn good reason. And although it didn’t really last forever—by the time of swansong Terror Twilight, Pavement’s sound had become tragically diluted—the title reflects the glorious sense of idealism surrounding Pavement’s halcyon days, and, presumably, it gets you all hot and excited to read Rob Jovanovic’s account of why Pavement were the greatest band of the 90s.
But it doesn’t quite work like that. Perfect Sound Forever is tellingly subtitled The Story of Pavement, and indeed, this is the story of Pavement, in almost the strictest sense. It manages to adequately detail the happenings of Pavement—although at 200 pages, many of which are completely without text, it runs a little short—but it almost completely forgoes content about the actual music, rendering the book passionless and fairly unmoving.
Visually, the book is frequently dazzling—a straight account of a band that never did anything the easy way would be jarring, so Jovanovic cleverly structures the book the way Pavement structured their liner notes, a collage of pictures, photographs, scribblings, quotables and stain marks surrounding the actual information. This technique pays off well, offering breaks from the story line for some fascinating diversions like Stephen Malkmus track-by-track guides to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and Wowee Zowee or each member of the band’s list of their favorite bands and influences or pages full of short reviews for each of their early 10” singles. However, with the book only running a thin 200 pages, Jovanovic too often uses the messiness of the book as an excuse for genuine content, of which the book simply doesn’t have enough.
And what content there is rarely transcends general information. A musical biography should be informative, yes, but it should also leave you with a burning sense of why that artist is worth reading a whole book about and an urge to go out and seek everything the band ever did. Perfect Sound Forever just doesn’t do that—it spends over 20 pages detailing the saga of brilliant but unreliable drummer Gary Young’s elongated exit from the band, but spends only one page talking about Slanted and Enchanted, the group’s most beloved work. In fact, more than half of the book is finished by the time Slanted appears at all—more time is spent tracking the band’s background then their actual career as a band.
That’s not to say that the book is entirely worthless. It’s likely to be the most directly firsthand account of the band ever released—Jovanovic was able to acquire exclusive interviews with each of the band members and the people who knew them best. It’s interesting to get each member’s individual perspective—each has their own story of Young’s final departure, as well as their own theories as to why Pavement didn’t last. And the book does an excellent job of placing Pavement in a historical context—from the buzz surrounding them due to the breakthrough of Nirvana in 1992 to the band’s failure to crossover with Wowee Zowee and their inappropriate inclusion on the 1995 Lollapalooza tour.
Still, when the book is done after only a couple of hours, you can’t help but wonder what the point was. You could’ve spent that same time listening to 2002’s Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe and Reduxe re-issue once all the way through and understood exactly why Pavement was one of the best bands of the 90s—not only through the gushing, passionate liner notes but through the self-explanatory music itself. Buying S&E: L&R and the series of two-disc Pavement re-issues that presumably are to follow would do a much better job teaching you the real story of Pavement than this gorgeous, but dry and brief work.