Wrapping my head around the concept of The Pixies operating without bassist Kim Deal is very difficult, so please bare with me. Since learning about the band’s first new record since 1991, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time hyperventilating into a brown paper bag.
By now you’ve probably heard: After reuniting in 2004, The Pixies began cashing long-due checks for nearly a decade, selling out huge venues across the world. In fact, during this time the band even sold a t-shirt that mocked the whole idea, reading “PIXIES SELL OUT” in bold letters along the back. This arrangement worked quite nicely for a while, but at a certain point every artist needs to pull together some new recorded material, if only to justify their own existence.
As the story goes, once the band began to get serious about releasing new songs, Deal bailed after only a few days in the studio. The rest of the band carried on, working on what would become EP1. An initial new single, “Bagboy,” wasn’t exactly earth-shattering, but it was a respectable first dip back into the swimming pool. Soon enough, it was announced that a different Kim – guitarist/vocalist Kim Shattuck – would be replacing Deal on stage. Just like that, everything had changed.
Initially, the new record feels like a step down in quality – but to be fair, my expectations were unrealistically high. For the most part, it shows the band picking up relatively close to where they left off on Bossanova and the latter portions of Trompe Le Monde, with tight dynamic shifts and shimmering melodies drenched in reverb. A more apt comparison probably lies with the solo material of lead singer Black Francis (or should I say Frank Black, or Charles Thompson III), whose post-Pixies output has been mostly hit-or-miss, with some exquisite moments along the way. “Andro Queen” could fit nicely on 1994’s Teenager of the Year, but it doesn’t really enrapture. However, if an unheralded new band put this out, I’d probably be pretty damn excited. Regardless, this relatively subdued, vaguely-pretty first track is now accompanied by a similarly vague, pretty video.
“Another Toe in the Ocean” also sounds much like solo Francis, but not in the good way. The song features some painfully tacky lyrics, such as the downright Taylor Swift-y “you gotta swim sometimes.” Very deep. It’s quite possible that the mental image of Francis “making love in the cool, black sand” was enough to drive Deal out of the band all on it’s own. Also, no additional points are awarded for rhyming “going down to the onion patch” with “Edward Thatch,” even though it’s an obscure Blackbeard reference.
“Indie Cindy” borrows a bit from the frequently odd rhythms and time signatures of Francis’ solo output, particularly his 2007 album Bluefinger and 2008’s Svn Fngrs. It’s a step in the right direction, and the resulting track is likely the best of the band’s post-reunion material thus far. You can hear Joey Santiago bringing in some of the jumpy surf snarl he’s known for, even if the song suffers from a dose of Modern Digital Production Syndrome.
EP1 closes on a rough note with “What Goes Boom,” which – it hurts me to say – is really bad, with The Pixies almost sounding like a funny parody of themselves. It’s kind of like they took a crack at covering Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero” with help from Rick Rubin. Shows how much velocity they’ve lost on the ‘ole hard rock fastball in the 22-plus years since “Subbacultcha.” At this point, it’s hard to tell whether even Deal herself could even have saved this one. Maybe I can see what she was thinking when she pushed the eject button in the studio this summer, although the whole thing still makes me uneasy. Give me a second as I take a deep breath. Okay, a bit better now.
You could almost say it’s best for everyone this way. Francis can indulge his ego with new material, and the rest of the band can continue to tour without purely being a nostalgia act; stacking dough while playing classics mixed with new songs for adoring audiences across the world is a tough thing to pass up. Deal can wash her hands of the whole situation, and continue in her own artistic direction with The Breeders; by doing so, the imperfection of the current Pixies lineup forever insures the original 5-album canon is encapsulated by time and space, never to be destroyed by a ‘real’ attempt by the true lineup. It’s almost brilliant, when you think about it – unless you’re a compulsive musical completist like myself, for whom it provides a staggering amount of heartburn.
Both The Pixies and Deal’s Breeders will be touring this winter, often crisscrossing as they traverse through the same cities. Sadly, my favorite band isn’t even the one I most want to see live anymore. Such is the fateful conclusion of the most important band reunion of the young 21st century thus far.