By Andrew Tanner.
All Nerve – The Breeders (4AD)
Who doesn’t love The Breeders? Our favourite Pixie gets her other band back together 25 years after their last splash…
Sometimes, those oft-maligned band reunion tours actually deliver more than pale renditions of once vital anthems. In the case of much loved alt-rock icons The Breeders, it was a 20 year reunion tour celebrating the release of 1993’s Last Splash that brought that storied line-up of prime mover Kim Deal, her sister Kelley, bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim MacPherson together again – and sparked thoughts of recording an album of new songs.
Five years hence, and after a series of sessions with multiple producers in studios across America All Nerve has landed. While perhaps not producing an addictive ear worm like Last Splash’s ‘Cannonball’ the album is a taut, 11 track set guaranteed to satisfy long-time fans. All the building blocks are present and correct – the Deal sisters’ sugar rush pop harmonies, Kim’s mysterious off-kilter lyrics, angular spiky guitars and an exuberant take-no-prisoners rhythm section.
Opener ‘Nervous Mary’ starts with a slowly descending guitar figure accompanying a plaintive Kim Deal vocal, before the full band kicks in with a stomping Motown-meets-Stooges beat that matches the paranoia-drenched lyric.
First single ‘Wait In The Car’ kicks off with Kim shouting a cheerfully passive/aggressive ‘good morning!’ before stop/start guitars and bratty vocals propel the song forward, just long enough to get you singing along before it stops abruptly. Brevity is a keynote of the album (which runs for just over half an hour), with the longest track, the languid ‘Spacewoman’ clocking in at 4.22, and most hitting around the two minute mark.
Josephine Wiggs offers up some icy, Siouxsie-like lead vocals on ‘MetaGoth’, a throbbing bass-heavy track that’s either celebrating or parodying a generation of black clad eye-lined youth. Elsewhere, Courtney Barnett and band take a low key cameo supplying backing vocals on ‘Howl at the Summit’, a ragged 6/8 thrash that surprisingly builds into something approaching anthemic after only, yep, two minutes 57. Krautrock devotees will thrill to the band’s faithful cover of the 1970 Amon Duull II track ‘Archangel’s Thunderbird’, its scrappy, wayward guitars and keening vocal contrasting with the relatively relaxed lope of ‘Dawn: Making an Effort’ and the murder ballad redux ‘Walking with a Killer’.
Kim Deal’s trademark cocktail of vulnerability and weirdness comes to the fore on closing track ‘Blues at the Acropolis’, a song that bemoans the fate of history’s icons in a care-less modern world (‘I’ll mourn over the marble steps, junkies of the world lay across the monuments… drunks take a piss where heroes once bled out’). It’s a truly affecting moment that pinpoints the band’s strengths – muscular rock smarts matched with uniquely quirky takes on the strangeness of our human condition.
Messing with their legend by reforming and releasing new music 25 years on from that much-loved album takes some nerve – but on this album, The Breeders confidence trick has paid off handsomely.