, April 25th, 2014 09:54
The question isn't so much if they should have recorded new material as what took them so bloody long? It's now ten years since Pixies buried the hatchet and took to the road to deliver a reunion tour that did much to enhance their reputation as both true musical innovators and a genuinely fearsome live band. Their 2004 performances at the Brixton Academy were every bit as good, if not better, than their glory years and the collective wave of emotion that engulfed the venue confirmed just how they'd been missed.
Back then, the notion of bands of Pixies' stature and troubled personal history reforming was rather a novelty, and something of a pre-cursor to the heritage sub-genre that has subsequently sprung up, for good or for ill, to dominate the cultural landscape. Somewhat predictably, the intervening years have thrown up varying results as any number of bands got back together to bolster pension plans by trading on their back catalogues whilst seeing their cultural worth diminish as fans simply added these events to a check list marked, "Yeah, seen 'em now – who's next?" Not that all of them have been bad. For this writer, at least, Dinosaur Jr's resurrection has proved to be the most satisfying. Not only did they manage to stay in the same room together without killing each other, they returned on the back of a good album (Beyond) which was then followed up by one of the best of their career, Farm.
Unsurprisingly, these weren't albums that set the world alight in the way that their predecessors did, as the cultural context of the world had shifted since those releases and this is a position Pixies find themselves in with the added burden of a level of anticipation never before experienced thrown in for good measure. The problem with the weight of expectation mouthed from certain quarters is that these voices of dissent are, in the main, from those who weren't there the first time around and are now expecting some kind of generational big bang, hence some frankly reprehensible reviews from across the pond.
The issue with these expectations is that they rarely take into account the context into which the music was first introduced, quite why it resonated so much at the time and just why its ability to weather the intervening years has conferred classic status upon it. Pixies did what they had to do way back then so what exactly is being demanded from them now? Another paradigm shift? To have your perceptions of music altered again? For them to hit the trail and pioneer once more? Forget it - it's not going to happen and if those are your levels of expectation then frankly you don't deserve any of those things – or Pixies for that matter - especially when you should be doing it yourself.
Of course, there's an argument to be made that Pixies should never have bothered. It's now 23 years since the release of Trompe Le Monde, ten years since they got back together again, and such a huge gap in time has denied the chance of musical development that would at least show some kind of evolution - or, if you're really lucky, a second revolution - from there to now. In some ways that evolution is already out there in the shape of Frank Black's solo albums and works with The Catholics, releases by The Breeders and Joey Santiago's sojourn with The Martinis, but these are individual component parts and not the progression of a group.
That said, Pixies' recorded return has thrown up a real conundrum in the shape of the Kim Deal-sized gap stage right. The purists will doubtless throw their arms up in horror whilst blowing a gasket pontificating about this all being little more than a Frank Black solo album in all but name but hey, fuck 'em, you know? Joey Santiago's still there cranking up his Gold Top for all it's worth and David Lovering remains a powerhouse timekeeper and so the only question remaining is this: is Indie Cindy any cop?
The simple answer is 'yes'. Encountering their first album since their demise is not unlike meeting that old college friend you haven't seen since his wedding day. Sure, they're a little portlier, the hair has receded a bit (if they're lucky to have any hair left at all) and the prospects of staying up all night after the bottle cap has been thrown away for the avoidance of doubt are slim at best but that old magic is there. Sure, the youthful energy, wild abandon and surrender to acts of glorious stupidity and totally futile gestures are a thing of the past but the very thing that brought you together in the first place remains firmly in place.
So it is with Pixies. The scream that ushers in 'What Goes Boom' may lack the blood-curdling effect from days of yore but those dampened chords and punctuating arpeggios that go from quiet to loud and back to quite and then loud again are still there and its hard to resist the thrill as you think, hey, it's Pixies and they sound like Pixies only 23 years on. Likewise, 'Greens And Blues' and the title track that follow wouldn't sound out of place on Bossanova – itself an album that arrived to a mixed response – and it's to that third album that the minds wanders because now, just as then, Gil Norton's slick production certainly smoothes over the rawness and rough-and-ready feel of their earliest releases. Not that this is a sticking point; all concerned have matured both as people and musicians and such is the ageing process. We all move on. That's how things work.
This is what makes 'Magdalena 318' such a joy. Retaining that creepy otherness that characterised them before and occasionally doffing its hat to Dr Feelgood's 'Roxette', here Pixies are happy to move away from type with something that, for them, at least, verges on being a ballad. Similarly, 'Ring The Bell' finds Pixies striking out into pastures new with a tenderness and consideration that was previously little in evidence. There's a treat to be had that so far down the line, Pixies still possess the ability to make you sit up and notice and that it comes from the unlikeliest of sources doubles the sensation.
All well and good but the Kim Deal issue rears its head prominently on 'Bagboy', wherein facsimile vocals are delivered by Bennies singer and Frank Black collaborator Jeremy Dubs, and yeah, you sure do miss her. But what's a band to do? Shitcan the project? If anything, the track can be seen as an acknowledgement by Pixies of Deal's Herculean contribution to their impressive back catalogue, but the compensations are numerous, most notably on 'Blue Eyed Hexe'. Granted, the nods to AC/DC are obvious but then again wasn't Trompe Le Monde supposed to be their heavy metal album? Ah, how quickly people forget.
Seen in the cold light of day, Indie Cindy – the result of three recently released EPs – does feel like first nervous steps of a child dipping its toes into the water for the first time rather than a huge splash but this shouldn't really come as a surprise; after all, Pixies are probably more acutely aware of their legacy than you or I ever will be. Chances are that after the initial thrill has gone, you'll be reaching for Indie Cindy less frequently than Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, more than Trompe Le Monde and about the same as Bossanova and that's not a bad return to the fray by any measure. Job done and welcome back - it's nice to see you again.