The first ‘proper’ release from the Pixies since 1991 takes the form of this brief four song EP, the inaugural release in a series to be issued direct through the band’s website. Aside from ‘Bagboy’ - a tune-free chant reminiscent of some anonymous rawk band filling in a Pixies-by-numbers painting book that limped out earlier this year – and the cartoonish, carnival-fun, Kim Deal-led ‘Bam Thwok’ from 2004, this is the only artifact we have to grasp to our palpitating chests in the decade since the band were reunited.
That Kim Deal is absent can’t be ignored – yet while blogs, buzz sites and message boards have erupted into fits of righteous anger over her departure and the band’s decision to continue without her, it must be noted that these new releases probably would not be happening were she still in the ranks – Deal was, it seems, always the least enthused about issuing new material of any kind lest it diminish the legend of musical history’s key alt-rock band.
So with Deal replaced by The Muffs’ Kim Shattuck (a good move but not enough to score indie points with the haters) we get four new songs from the Pixies. On the whole? It’s… actually pretty good.
Opener ‘Andro Queen’ swiftly checks off the Frank Black lyrical obsessions – sex: “She shows me under her silk”, sci-fi: “She’s off in a silver rocket” and sex again, but this time with a hint of violence: “Kissing you is so hard in this vile dress”. That it sounds a little like something from David Lynch’s recent solo musical output and has an entrancing melody work in it’s favour, Santiago’s shimmering, reverb-drenched guitar as conspicuous and unique as it was two decades ago.
‘Another Toe’ is a sugary, instantly addictive addition to the loud/quiet/loud pantheon. Distortion giving way to an acoustic strum and a technicolour chorus as wide as a desert though doesn’t prevent the feeling that we’re missing the spitting fury, the genuinely deranged explosiveness of ‘vintage’ Pixies. This wouldn’t sound out of place on Black’s ‘Teenager Of The Year’, but those looking for abrasion will find off-kilter loveliness in it’s place.
‘What Goes Boom’ is the heartbreaker here – opening with a scream and a charging, metallic racer of a riff we’re checking the boxes in quick succession – but there’s just no heart. Shattuck drops some Deal-like backing vocals, which are fine, and Black gets into some stream of consciousness rhyming that throws up a “slinky little punky” and a “Whipped cream hippie” that are delectable, but the shouted non-chorus and faux-furious drumming only give the impression that this is bravado and bombast over feeling and fury.
The best thing here by a wide margin is ‘Indie Cindy’, beginning as a distant cousin to ‘Where Is My Mind’ it thunders to jagged, stumbling life, Black dishing out spoken word bile on the topic of a viciously romantic suicide pact and possible return from the dead. Lines like “No soul, my milk is curdled / I’m the burgermeister of purgatory” and “They call this dance the washed-up crawl” call to mind the likes of ‘Wave Of Mutilation’, Black’s cooing chorus croon and Santiago’s cheese-grater solo suggesting that there’s still actual potential, a second life left in this version of Pixies.
Truth told it’s hard for anyone to have critical faculties intact when it comes to everyone’s formerly beloved Pixies – most are kneejerking with dismissal and even downright hatred at this latest chapter in their career – but given a moment to breathe, a few listens to appreciate and a little bit of perspective (it’s not 1989, this isn’t the band that tore ‘Broken Face’ out of their blackened souls, nor the band that reinvented rock music – but a latterday, partially compromised version of the same) there’s no reason to shit all over a record where three out of the four songs are at least enjoyable, one of them an absolute blinder, no matter what reputation or past the performers have. Death to Pixies? Fuck that, let’s hear what they’ve got.