A New Pixies Album
Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, Bossanova and Trompe le Monde (1988-1991) masterpieces all, as well as the miniLP Come On Pilgrim, were always unfollowable. Any attempt was preprogrammed to fail, sure to disappoint, bound to be picked apart, which begs the question: why try now?
When Charles Thompson (Black Francis), Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering returned to touring in 2004, it was fantastic to see them back together, actively disliking each other again (a key ingredient in their success) and once again playing that jagged, angular art rock as only they can. At first, questions about a new record were quickly dismissed by the band and its entourage as crazy talk: they were out on one tour and that would be that. Yet the longer the band toured, and the more flack they caught for just being in it for the quick cash, the more that a new record looked like a possibility. First came EP1 in September 2013. EP2 followed in January 2014. EP3 was released in March. All of them have been combined into Indie Cindy which was released on Record Store Day 2014.
I spent an evening recently listening with veteran Pixies fans, er, freaks and it quickly became an exercise in interpreting facial expressions. Though we’d all heard the EPs before Indie Cindy was released, having them assembled into an “album” is a different listening experience. When easily identifiable flecks of the old band flashed by, Black Francis screaming verses in “Blue Eyed Hex” for example, there were smiles all around. The lilting “Ring The Bell” brought wrinkled up noses. And puzzled looks predominated when “Andro Queen” came on, with its reverb loaded vocal (which occasionally slides into Spanish like the old days) and quavering guitar chords floating in the background. There were moments when wide agreement prevailed. The opener, “What Goes Boom” has a promising amount of the old crunch in Santiago’s guitar and BF’s vocal. And the slower, softer, more melodic, “Greens and Blues,” which has a few Pixieesque turns in the melody is a pleasant, if very soft, track. From there though, things drift. Yes, BF’s carnival barker persona returns in the title track but speaking words like, “I’m the Burgermeister of Purgatory” or “put the cock in cocktail” doesn’t have the same impact as say, “Got killed by ten million pounds of sludge/from New York and New Jersey” (“Monkey Gone to Heaven”). Other than a slightly faster snap to “Bagboy,” fast tempos have been completely abandoned in favor of a midtempo or slower beat. Tunes like “Magdalena 318” “Silver Snail” and “Another Toe in the Ocean,” sound like castoff demos. The sound quality is tough to judge considering I only had an advance CD.
Again, it’s almost impossible to imagine how Indie Cindy could have not been a disappointment. A group of stellar tunes might have dispelled some doubts. But the absence of Kim Deal’s voice, songwriting and attitude, clearly audible throughout, is a huge loss. And the powerful inspirations of 20 years ago have long since dissipated. The shadow cast by the original quartet of albums is too long. Would it have been a better Frank Black solo album? Perhaps. It definitely sounds like that in spots. Is it a better than the average indie rock album. Yes, but then that’s the problem: the Pixies were exceptional. Once created and loosed, how can expectations be reined in?