In defense of the new Pixies

Pixies EP-We live in an age where music journalism – this blog included – is increasingly irrelevant: the discerning music fan has all of the tools available to them to make their own decisions and musical discoveries. Want to know if you like a band? Look ’em up on Spotify and decide for yourself. (Don’t have a Spotify account? It’s free, you jerks). Want their backstory? Wikipedia. Similar artists? Last.FM. And so on. So I guess it kind of fucks me off when music that is clearly not awful on any level (in fact is rather excellent in this writer’s humble opinion) gets a slagging off in the music “press” (whatever that means in 2013). I am talking, of course, about the new Pixies material.

So, twenty-two years after their last album, ten years after their reunion began, and nine years since their last new material the Pixies finally chose 2013 as the year to release some new material. Much like My Bloody Valentine’s triumphant return after a twenty year hiatus with mbv (an album I also loved), the new Pixies material ticked all the boxes – familiar enough to appeal to old fans, just different enough to generate excitement beyond simple revivalism. Yet – unlike mbv – many reviewers have taken a distaste to the new Pixies material. Case in point: this now infamous 1/10 Pitchfork review.

Let’s backtrack just a bit before we tackle that particular injustice. The Pixies split up acrimoniously in 1993 largely due to growing tensions between core members Frank Black and Kim Deal. In 2003 they triumphantly reunited and have been touring consistently ever since, releasing just two new songs a year into their reunion (2004’s excellent Kim Deal penned “Bam Thwok”, and the Warren Zevon tribute “Ain’t That Pretty At All”), before falling silent on the new material front for almost a deccade, save for the odd hint at future recording sessions in interviews. Then, early this year, much to the despair of fans, the band announced Deal’s amicable departure from the Pixies.

What sounded like bad news actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The band’s lack of new material was often hinted at by the rest of the band to be related to Deal’s reluctance to tarnish the influential band’s reputation with new material. And these suspicions were somewhat confirmed when, within weeks of Deal’s departure, the band released a new song – the very good indeed “Bagboy” – on their website for free, swiftly followed by a new EP, rumoured to be the first of many.

Deal’s replacement is Kim Shattuck, an inspired choice, and arguably the perfect replacement (they don’t even need to change the names on the riders). If you’re not familiar with Kim’s work, check out this song by her excellent 90s band The Muffs, and this guest appearance on a NOFX classic. As someone who’s seen the Pixies live several times since their reunion, recent footage with Shattuck on bass shows the band playing with more energy and conviction than they’ve displayed in years.

So finally, the new EP. It’s fucking great. It really is. Opening song “Andro Queen” is my personal favourite, slow and reverby, with a touch of Spanish so you don’t forget who you’re listening to. “Another Toe In The Ocean” is classic Pixies circa Bossanova / Trompe Le Monde. First single “Indie Cindy” is fantastic, with their trademark quiet/ loud dynamic put to good use. “What Goes Boom” is the heaviest song, punk themed and a little reminiscent of “Planet Of Sound”.

Why the backlash then? I’m not sure entirely, but it’s pretty safe to say that there’s a strong element of misplaced nostalgia here. History never repeats, and the band are never going to release another “Where Is My Mind” or “Here Comes Your Man”. Deal with it (no pun intended). Which is not to say they’ll never write a song as good as those again, it’s just going to sound completely different. Your job as a music reviewer, and even more importantly, as a fan, is to judge new music on its own merits. Forget the past. Do you like this music? Do you enjoy listening to it? That’s all that matters.

Part of the reason I’ve waited so long to post this review – the EP was released on the 3rd of September – was to see if my initial positive reaction would remain. It was important to ascertain that it wasn’t just the thrill of a new release by one of my favourite bands twisting my opinion of the music contained within to the positive. And as you may have judged by the tone of this piece, I still love these songs over a month after their release.

Just to illustrate that I’m not a hopeless nostalgic, in love with my own musical past, I should point out that another of my favourite bands, featuring one of my favourite guitarists, released their first new album in 40 years earlier this year: Iggy & The Stooges with James Williamson on guitar, with the album Ready to Die. Unlike the Notorious B.I.G album of the same name, the Stooges’ return was pretty fucking terrible. Awful songs, weak production, the Raw Power line-up’s chief asset (Williamson’s guitar playing) buried deep in the mix instead of spewing forth over all of the songs as it should, the album was a disaster. The band’s 2005 reunion album The Weirdness (with the late original guitarist Ron Asheton) may have had weak songs, but at least had Steve Albini production and trademark Stooges guitars. Ready To Die is the worst kind of reunion album – it takes the band’s existing legacy and shits all over it. The Pixies EP-1 does the exact opposite.

Are you a Pixies fan? Then get hold of EP-1 and listen to it for yourself. Chances are, like me, you’ll really like it. With the promise of more to come, and live glimpses of newer songs looking very strong indeed, the Pixies musical future is looking stronger than it has in a long time. Let the mainstream music press take their rose-tinted love of all things past and shove it.

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6 Responses to In defense of the new Pixies

  1. koabac says:

    Thank you so much for this review/commentary on an issue that’s been troubling me for far longer than this EP. I’ll go one further than just sticking up for the new EP-1. I think Black Francis/Frank Black’s solo catalog is one of the most tragically ignored, dismissed and overlooked in musical history. A Pixies album is 99.99% an album filled with songs written and sung by Black Francis. He’s made over 20 albums that meet that criteria, some of them as good and “Pixiey-ish” as any Pixie albums, and scattered throughout them, probably close to five albums worth of material that could have fit on any Pixies album and would now be considered some of their greatest songs. Also, yeah, a couple of them AREN’T all that interesting to my ears, although NONE of them really SUCK — no, not even “Cult of Ray,” which is a great bunch of skate punk songs, if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing, or “Honeycomb,” which is a mellow alt. country album with some lovely songs and playing on it (“My Life’s in Storage” shows just how much Black Francis has grown, matured and improved as a songwriter and lyricist.) Sure, not everything sounds like what one might define as the “Pixies sound,” but none of their albums – even track to track – sound much like each other either. What the hell’s a “Pixies song?” “Where is My MInd?’ “Havalina?” “Tame?” “Bone Machine?” None of these sound like the same band. Accordingly, in his solo career, Black Francis tried (and succeeded, for the most part) a lot of different kinds of songwriting and musical approaches as he should if he’s any real kind of artist. Not allowing our favorite, most revered artists to stretch out, explore and grow is insulting and cruel. As far as I’m concerned, the Pixies never stopped releasing albums – they just didn’t call them Pixies albums. Anyway, yes, close-mindedness and some bizarre psychological stigma and bias attached to “it’s not the Pixies without Kim Deal” continues to and has in the past prevented some remarkable music from ever receiving a fair chance. It’s a real shame and a sad loss for them.

    • Mike says:

      Well said! It’s good to know I’m not alone in my excitement for this new EP. And cheers for the tips on Frank Black’s solo stuff – I’ve been meaning to get into it for years, but have never quite got around to it. Loading up some of his albums on Spotify now – cheers!

      • koabac says:

        Hey Mike – So, it’s about a year later. I just came across this exchange again accidentally, and I was curious if you did, in fact, ever get a chance to dive into the mysterious and highly rewarding ocean of Black Francis/Frank Black’s solo work? II suppose the entire “Indie Cindy” album has since been released (which changed my opinion not at all from what I said above). I’m curious to hear your thoughts from this vantage point. Cheers, Koabac.

        • Mike says:

          Hey Koabac! Yeah I did check out a few albums on Spotify and really enjoyed them – but maybe didn’t give them quite as much attention as I should have. Teenager of the Year comes to mind, although I think that’s the most famous one.
          Which particular album(s) would you recommend as a starting point/ his best solo work.

          PS. Really loving the Indie Cindy album too. Still not understanding the dislike that’s been directed at the new stuff.

  2. Jarrod says:

    Hey, it’s been a couple of years, but you probably still have a Spotify account. I am madly in love with the self-titled Frank Black album. I agree wholeheartedly with the above comments about letting an artist grow and try new things, but if you’re a Pixies fan, that album should definitely be to your liking! Also, the new material is great!

    • Mike says:

      I dip into Frank Black’s back catalogue all the time now, he is great. A true one of a kind performer!

      Also the Pixies just dropped a brand new one too:

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