Thursday, 17 April 2014

PIXIES 'Indie Cindy'

Album review

Boston alt-rock darlings Pixies are back with their first new album in 23 years, and that’s a fact. Boston alt-rock darlings Pixies are not, however, back with 12 new songs. Instead, ‘Indie Cindy’ is exclusively loaded with the contents of their recent EPs, the imaginatively-titled ‘EP1’, ‘EP2’ and ‘EP3’, which the eagle-eyed Pixie-lover would have noticed entering the digital and collectible-vinyl world over the past few months with minimal fuss and to a mixed, often lukewarm, response. But ‘Indie Cindy’ deserves to be judged on her own merits, so don’t write her off just yet.

The deluxe version of ‘Indie Cindy’ also features 13 live tracks recorded this year in the USA, spanning all five studio albums and dipping into debut EP ‘Come On Pilgrim’, showing what the current incarnation of Pixies – that is, the band without original bassist and backing vocalist Kim Deal, or her replacement or her replacement’s replacement – have got to offer without tackling any of the big hits.

You would be forgiven for thinking that all this bodes rather ill for the album itself, but bear in mind that Pixies are a bit of an oddity of a band. They can hardly lay claim to global domination the first time round, and despite not-inconsiderable record sales they have always existed at a tangent to the mainstream. Pixies are perhaps the definition of that delicious kind of cult band that can headline festivals (they’ve just played Coachella and are booked for Glastonbury, amongst others) and which counted Kurt Cobain amongst its loyal followers – you can hear their influence splashed all across Nirvana’s work – but still lets you feel like owning their albums makes you part of an exclusive club. Great success.

So how does their irreverent sound translate into 2014? Well, not without its difficulties, which need to be tackled head-on so we can circumnavigate the critical shitstorm that the tracks have kicked up in certain quarters. As I’ve already mentioned, 23 years have passed since Pixies’ last studio album, and 27 since ‘Come On Pilgrim’. That’s a long time by anybody’s standards, and in the context of the world of music it is several ages – if you counted all the stars that have risen and swiftly fallen in that time, you would lose the will to live once you hit the millions, so it should come as no surprise that ‘Indie Cindy’ is not a seamless continuation of vintage Pixies albums like ‘Doolittle’ from 1989. The band progressed immensely from 1988 debut full-length ‘Surfer Rosa’ to 1991’s ‘Trompe le Monde’, and if you put a gun to my head I’d say that 2014’s offering is closest in stature to their later work, but this hasn’t stopped an army of misty-eyed reviewers castigating its constituent EPs for not being carbon copies of ‘Debaser’. This is unfair. True, ‘Indie Cindy’ boasts none of the soaring highs of ‘Gigantic’, nor the batshit craziness of ‘Broken Face’, but that’s because these characteristics sprang from a youthful energy which made anything possible... Twenty six years later, is it any surprise that’s died down a little? Of course not. What would be more problematic would be a lack of the bona fide indie rock song-writing genius demonstrated on such cuts as ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ and ‘Where is My Mind?’. ‘Indie Cindy’ is certainly not a consistent performer in this area, but thankfully ‘Greens and Blues’ and ‘Ring the Bell’ are both prime examples of Pixies’ craft, the former soaring around a neatly discordant chord change and the latter sitting on the right side of saccharine as only Pixies know how – both are standout cuts of indie rock, and should be counted amongst their stronger work.

Elsewhere, we are not left wanting for more traces of classic Pixies, although you sometimes have to dig through layers of production to find them – this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something new to get used to. ‘Andro Queen’, with its carefully-poised delay is a case in point, retaining that vintage melodicism but with far more sonic sculpting than we’re used to. ‘Magdalena 318’ is the same, a brooding stomper containing one of the fuzziest guitars of the year which successfully sits on the cusp of explosion while never reaching it – a Pixies trademark, and a key part of the sound which captivated Cobain. This dynamic control is revisited on compelling straight-up rocker ‘Another Toe in the Ocean’, and ‘Snakes’, which comes as close to the frenzied tempos of old as anything on this record, and is a rousing highlight to boot. The title track draws together the newfound production values and marries it with old-school loud-soft-loud-soft sensibilities to create what is on paper the perfect example of where Pixies are at right now. It’s not the best song on the album, but it’s damn close.

New bass player Paz Lenchantin & the rest of the Pixies

However, after a while, the absence of Kim Deal, which has been a bitter pill for many fans to swallow, starts to make itself felt – ‘Jaime Bravo’ is an uncomplicated sunny Pixies number, but one which is cheated by the absence of Deal’s charismatic vocals. ‘Bagboy’, which was released as a free single last year, also falls near to this category, although it emerges in a maelstrom of crashing drums, resplendent even without her. Black Francis spouts nonsense over the top of what is musically probably the closest the album gets to the band’s classic sound, making for an imperious cut which shows Pixies have still got it where it counts. If you’re sceptical as to whether they are still relevant, this should reassure you, and if it doesn’t, nothing will.

The album is a bit of a slow starter, though, opening with ‘What Goes Boom’ –which aims at driving rhythms but despite bursts of catchy melodies ends up sounding somewhat leaden – and it suffers from a severe dip in quality towards the middle, with ‘Silver Snail’ sounding uncomfortably like filler material. The baffling ‘Blue Eyed Hexe’ follows it sounding like a forgotten AC/DC b-side, and Francis’ screaming does nothing to claw back any credibility.

Thankfully this is only a short dip into skippable song territory, with the rest of the album sitting comfortably within the Pixies catalogue, occupying a new and as yet rather unstable territory; time will tell whether this incarnation of Pixies is here to stay as a recording entity. ‘Indie Cindy’ is certainly not about to overshadow any of their classic records, and for the most part even when viewed
as fundamentally different pales in comparison to them, but it does offer a base for any further ventures they may want to undertake, and throws up a couple of songs worth their place in the setlists of Pixies’ festival appearances this summer. Whether the crowd will want to hear them, however, is an entirely different question.

- Joe Ponting

Released April 28th (UK)
Order album Here on i-tunes

Watch 'Bagboy'