The two-year stretch between Wowee Zowee and Brighten the Corners felt eternal. Pavement were on the road constantly, and the release of the Pacific Trim EP just whetted everyone's appetite.
Listening to the Pavement catalog straight through, you can feel that gap between Wowee and Brighten. Pavement felt a little older, a bit more settled. Whereas some bands turn outward as they develop, Pavement did the inverse — Malkmus' Malkmusisms became even Malkmusier, as album opener "Stereo" made hugely obvious from the get-go with its ridiculous lyrics and herky-jerked melody.
I have mixed feelings on Brighten the Corners, as you can probably tell. "Stereo" and "Shady Lane" and "Date With Ikea" are all considered Pavement classics by this point, but none of those click with me at all. They feel forced where Pavement had once felt effortless, passive where Pavement had once been startling.
It does have two great Pavement moments, however: "Type Slowly," a bit of a sequel to "Stop Breathing," and, most of all, "Transport Is Arranged," an earnest ballad that ranks among their best. The first chorus really exemplifies Malkmus at his best: "I know you're my lady/ But I could tremble I could flood/ A voice coach taught me to sing/ He couldn't teach me to love/ All the above." It's sincere and mocking, giving and knowing, and perfectly aware of its conflicts. And that goes for Brighten the Corners, too, come to think of it.