Indie Cindy


Pixiesmusic, 2014

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Let’s get something straight before we dig into this review: it is pointless to gripe about how this album doesn’t really sound like the Pixies of old. It is stupid to compare this to Surfer Rosa and Dolittle and say it doesn’t come close to measuring up. Everybody – including the band, I suspect – knew that they would not be able to recapture the magic of their original releases, to somehow conjure the magic that catapulted them to the forefront of the underground alternative movement. So why even bother?

Most reviews of this record have and will continue to be slanted by that bias, because those who listen to this will undoubtedly have fond feelings toward the band’s original work and its influence. One of the mysteries of ‘90s rock is why Pixies broke up just as alt rock was hitting the mainstream, but in retrospect, the band said what it needed to say to a generation of new bands, who took the ball and ran with it (Nirvana chief among them; don’t even try to pretend In Utero isn’t anything more than a sequel to Surfer Rosa). Their place as leading lights and influential denizens of guitar-based alt rock secure, the band never needed to do anything again.

But the music urge calls, the bills must be paid, the fans clamor, and so the quartet reunited in 2004 for some live shows and a single. Since then, they have toured relentlessly, trading on that good name and those old songs, but in 2013 the songwriting bug suddenly hit and most of the band worked up 12 new songs. I say “most” because bassist Kim Deal is missing, and her backup vocals and bass playing are sorely missed as a key part of the Pixies puzzle. A new lady named Paz fills in on bass on stage now, while a hired studio hand plays on this record.

Those 12 songs were released on three EPs, one last year and two earlier this year, and this album collects and shuffles the order of those tracks. This feels a bit like crass commercialism to the fans who already have those EPs, but most others will appreciate having them all in one place and in a logical order, for those inclined to still listen to albums start to finish (as I suspect most Pixies fans are). As said above, though, the band never needed to release new music to add to its legacy, and it was inevitable that anything would fall short and sully the good name.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So we return to the original premise, which is where we shrug off those expectations. Stop trying to compare this to Trompe Le Monde and just appreciate it for what it is. Three of the four original Pixies, playing a dozen new songs, most of which are pretty damn good, if a bit stuck in the ‘90s sonically. Which makes sense, I suppose, and one wonders how things would be different if this album had been released in 1993 as a follow-up to Trompe instead of among the electro-pop-rock that categorizes most new releases in 2014. As the saying goes, by any other band, this would be a great album.

I dare you to find a rock song in 2014, at least so far, that comes close to the confident swagger of the stomping “What Goes Boom.” It’s a song that warrants repeated plays and probably sounds killer live; you can cry that it doesn’t have Pixies signatures like loud/quiet dynamics, abrasive production, oddball chord changes, or you can shut up and enjoy the hell out of it. It’s the smoky yang to the yin of “Where Is My Mind?,” but it is the same band. Deal with it.

From there, the songs are slightly more familiar, such as the acoustic underpinnings (with a slight wheedling electric guitar line on top) of the cheerful “Greens And Blues,” the willfully clunky spoken-word title track (with lines like “You put the cock in cocktail, man”) and the single “Bagboy,” another spoken-word rant against celebrity obsession  (“I’m not feeling your buzz / I only feel your crock of stew”) with some great guitar work in the middle. It’s a catchy number, certainly in the spirit of past Pixies work, strong and charismatic and a little bit weird.

“Magdalena 318” is slower and just as good, carried by the lilting chorus, proof that Frank Black remains a versatile singer who can bring different personas (street preacher, rocker, balladeer) to each song. “Silver Snail” has a bit of a psychedelic edge with a hint of Iggy Pop in the vocals and the Beatles’ later work in the playing, especially the extended outro. “Blue-Eyed Hexe” is a strange beast, the best song the Stone Temple Pilots never wrote, with added cowbell and an AC/DC-esque riff…and it’s the second-most straightforward song here. Great fun.

Where the popular alt rock bands of the 1990s like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden found inspiration in arena rock and punk, the original alternative bands (these guys, R.E.M., Sonic Youth) pulled from 1960s pop and the Velvet Underground, and those influences are still present in Black’s songs, especially a Beach Boys spin on “Ring The Bell” and “Another Toe In The Ocean.” This doesn’t save them from being more than mediocre songs, unfortunately. The sci-fi sexcapade “Andro Queen” doesn’t do this album any favors either; “Snakes” is a little better, at least, acting as a goofy lead-in to the retro sound of “Jaime Bravo,” which could have come off any Pixies album to date and features some good harmony singing (although, again, Deal’s voice is greatly missed here) and an optimistic, almost sunny, tone.

The haters will say this tarnishes the Pixies name. They are wrong. This is the kind of album that would be great by any new band but, in the hands of legends, will never measure up to what came before. So don’t try. Enjoy it for what it is, which is a very good classicist alt-rock album that will delight most normal fans of the Pixies and may spark interest from those who have heard of the band but don’t know much about them. Not quite worth the 23-year wait, of course, but what would have been?

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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