When The Breeders prefaced this new record with a UK tour last Autumn, nothing about the shows betrayed the fact that this was make-or-break time.
If you think about it, there is a lot riding on this album. Much of it, at least in the public imagination, boils down to Kim Deal, who already has a sort of burden of proof on her back; if she was going to leave the Pixies, as she did relatively quietly in the summer of 2013, then she’d best have a good reason for it. At the time, it seemed as if she wanted to move on from a band that were hardly bursting at the seams with enthusiasm for new material, and yet that same summer, she was on the road in Europe with the newly-reprised Breeders, revisiting their seminal Last Splash in the top-to-bottom manner that’s become so fashionable.
After that, The Breeders disappeared again. Both Kim and her twin sister Kelley had suffered horribly with addiction during the group’s initial run, and it seemed as if they were duly afforded time and space from everybody once the machine began to whir back into life; their bandmates, their label, and most importantly, their fans. They took their time before they dived back into the industry headfirst and, as an interview with The Guardian last October revealed, they are no longer physically part of its machinery; they call their birthplace of Dayton, Ohio home, rather than New York or Los Angeles.
What strikes you is that Kim Deal didn’t have to be here; there was more than a few quid to be earned as part of the Pixies touring machine, and she eschewed it. On this evidence, she decided wisely. All Nerve doesn’t, at any point, try to reclaim former glories; low-key opener “Nervous Mary” falls back on the old back-and-forth between Kim and Kelley, both of whom are in conversational mood, but the extent to which they’re jaded is palpable.
When Kim barks “good morning!” to introduce the following track, last year’s prefacing single “Wait in the Car”, she sets the tone; as long as it seems to have taken to get another Breeders record out in the wild, it can’t have been because they were busying themselves sanding the edges off. Sure enough, All Nerve could just as easily have been called Raw Nerve, or Trapped Nerve, or any other variation of that title that would do justice to how sharply realised this set of songs is.
The guitars on the lyrically whip-smart “MetaGoth” are incendiary, and “Walking with the Killer” fizzes with quiet menace. “Howl at the Summit” and “Skinhead #2” simmer with the same pointedness; when the latter crackles into life late on with a thrashing guitar part, you realise that The Breeders are no less angry or scything in their insight as they used to be - it’s just that they’re delivering their misanthropic energy in more carefully concentrated bursts these days.
The gorgeous, wall-of-reverb reflection of “Dawn: Making an Effort” is the standout; it’s bruised and beautiful, and reminds you that - even when they’re letting loose on the title track or “Archangel’s Thunderbird” - this is very much a mature iteration of The Breeders, one that’s happy to wear its rock and roll scars on its sleeve. All Nerve won’t please anybody looking for the reckless abandon of old, but surely nobody who ever loved this band will be in that frame of mind. Instead, they’ll be ushering these old favourites in from the cold with warmth and empathy. This records sounds like a quiet defeat; really, it’s a triumphant cacophony.