Pavement may have been alternative rock’s most notorious mess, but this deluxe reissue of their best album, appended with nearly forty extra tracks, illuminates one of their precious gifts: Like nobody else, the Stockton, California, band could make simple pop-rock chords sound really, really sarcastic. On its breakthrough, 1992’s Slanted and Enchanted, melodies crept into a might-racket of guitar noise. Crooked Rain was almost the reverse: superbly crafted rock that only seemed splayed at the edges. “Silence Kid” begins with a fake-offhand guitar splutter, then becomes an anthem; while the ascending riffs of “Elevate Me Later” are cleverly onomatopoetic but also just as majestic and arena-ready as anything by U2. The extra tracks include a nod to Pavement’s stadium heroes: The rare “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” is a hilarious faux-metal homage to R.E.M.
Much of Crooked Rain proper is straight-out lovely: The drawn out, spindly solo of “Stop Breathin” is gorgeous; rarely has so much lazy beauty been wrung from so few actual notes. And with the would-be pop hit “Cut Your Hair,” the band, at last, just went for it. Pavement used the skepticism they had toward their idols of the Seventies and Eighties to build a new, imperfect classic rock. Rain is the sound of five school-of-rock geeks trying to make their major matter again, and really, truly succeeding.