Tag Archives: Kim Deal

Pixies – Surfer Rosa – Classic Music Review

Nice tits.

What’s striking about those tits is that they look perfectly natural. Having recently studied the history of modern porn from the first issue of Playboy to the present, I have concluded that tits have gone through three phases of development:

  • The Natural Phase: Tits as determined by genes inherited from mom, dad or the mailman
  • The Inflated Phase: Tits rounded out and inflated due to the extra shots of estrogen and progesterone in birth control pills
  • The Bimbo Phase: Large and “perfectly” shaped tits fashioned by saline or silicone implants

I developed this taxonomy of tits after spending an afternoon with my hardcore lesbian cousin and her multi-gigabyte collection of adult female porn. Her collection is carefully curated and organized, so I asked her to organize her pics by date of publication so we could view changes in tit development over time. The chronology clearly shows that the natural tits of Betty Page and Marilyn Monroe started to give way to inflated tits in 1966, and other than the occasional sop to small-tit connoisseurs, hormone-enhanced tits dominated the pictorials from that point on. Fake tits entered the picture in the ’80s, but consistent “perfection” would elude plastic surgeons until the 21st century. It’s obvious when you look at some pornstars from the ’90s that their saline bags have gravitated towards the nipple, resulting in a look my cousin defined as “tit sausage (nichons de saucisse).” Recent porn is dominated by the bimbo look, marked by perfectly round, gigantic tits accompanied by fat-augmented lips that make women look more like circus clowns than sex kittens.

But I digress.

We agreed that natural and hormone-enhanced tits were the most pleasing to the eye, and that breast augmentation/reconstruction should be reserved for the unfortunate women who have had to undergo mastectomies. I don’t think our joint opinion will have any impact on the tit-building industry because modern cultures have made tits a commodity, and “bigger is better” dominates the field just like extra-large cokes and super-sized fries. The Mayo Clinic suggests that breast augmentation “might help you improve your self-confidence,” and when a respected institution like The Mayo Clinic argues that a purely cultural bias is a valid reason for a medical procedure, it should tell you that tits are an important revenue stream in the health care field.

The “self-confidence” selling point arises from two sources. It’s validating when a woman walks into a night club and causes heads to turn—and nothing draws a man’s attention as effectively as a respectable rack. But unbeknownst to most men, women pay just as much attention to racks as men do—and I’m not just talking about gay women. Women are always checking out each other to see how they “stack up” in comparison. Somehow, shelling out serious bucks to own a better rack than your girlfriend builds “self-confidence.” Natural tits have become passé in our totally fucked-up world.

Yes, but what the fuck does all this tit play have to do with Pixies?

Glad you asked! In preparation for this review, I listened to three commercially successful records from the ’80s:

  • Songs from the Big Chair by Tears for Fears
  • The Stone Roses
  • So by Peter Gabriel

All these albums (and many more ’80s recordings) are marked by the sound of drums enhanced through gated reverb to give the music a more cinematic wide-field sound. It is one of the distinguishing features of ’80s music (along with cheesy-sounding synthesizers). Those horrid production values led me to define the ’80s as a decade largely marked by fake sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Huh. U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” just popped into my head. I wonder why.

Anyway, when the Pixies opened their first full-length studio album with David Lovering and the sound of natural drums, it represented am emphatic rejection of the sleek and slick sounds of ’80’s music. Like the Punk Revolution, Pixies music represented a return to the rough-and-rowdy, bursting-with-energy essence of rock ‘n’ roll. Combined with Steve Albini’s raw production and the trademark soft-LOUD dynamics, the Pixies’ approach to music would have an enormous influence on a diverse group of musicians who would dominate the scene in the ’90s—Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, etc.

It should be noted that none of the four artists mentioned in the previous paragraph came close to duplicating the absurdist humor in Pixies songs (Cobain came the closest). At first listen, Black Francis’ songwriting style seems like undisciplined stream-of-consciousness, but it’s really more like the output of an accomplished improv actor: the words that come out of his head feel spontaneous but are nearly always tied to a palpable theme. He seems to start with a germ of an idea—a word, a location, an experience—and takes it wherever it leads him without allowing the censor to block the idea’s natural growth.

Opening with that thrilling sound of natural percussion, “Bone Machine” proceeds to give each member a turn in the spotlight, with Kim Deal hot on Lovering’s heels with a memorable bass run reflecting her preference for old strings that strips unwanted treble and brightness from the bottom. Joey Santiago enters with a decidedly nasty guitar riff over which we hear Black Francis shouting, “This is a song for Carol.” The structure and delivery of the song defy convention: the verses are narrated; the bridge features a melody that tracks the bass pattern as Francis and Kim sing in unison; what passes for a chorus is delivered in loose harmony and stop time. “It’s a song about fucking”, Kim Deal said in the documentary Pixies – On the Road, standing up to demonstrate the movement of a woman’s pelvis during a fuck (the bone machine is the “thing” that makes the pelvis go). Carol apparently has a bone machine working on overdrive and all she has to show for it is a case of herpes:

You’re into Japanese fast food
And I drop you off with your Japanese lover
And you’re going to the beach all day
You’re so pretty when you’re unfaithful to me
You so pretty when you’re unfaithful to me

You’re looking like
You’ve got some sun
Your blistered lips
Have got a kiss
They taste a bit like everyone

Uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh
Your bone’s got a little machine

The second verse represents a leap through memory association, harkening back to an incident involving a different bone machine, one belonging to a pedophile pastor:

I was talking to preachy-preach about kissy-kiss
He bought me a soda
He bought me a soda
He bought me a soda and he tried to molest me in the parking lot
Yep, yep yep yep

The concept of a “bone machine” highlights the disconnection between the sexual organs and the part of the brain that exercises judgment. Carol fucks like a rabbit, the narrator gets turned on by her unfaithfulness, the pastor can’t control his repressed libido. In the last verse, the cause of attraction is brown skin that we assume differs from the narrator’s, hinting at the age-old truth that forbidden fruit amplifies attraction because it is forbidden. Attraction is a complex, often mysterious dynamic, but if there’s a takeaway here, it’s something like “know who you’re fucking and why you’re fucking, or . . . uh-oh.”

Pixies are by definition mischievous, and Francis often likes to play the role of a loser, allowing the character to present their loser behavior with a minimum of judgment. Being true to the character makes the point far more effectively than giving us a sermon on the evils of whatever weird shit the loser comes up with. The character in “Break My Body” is an extreme self-destructive type, an honest-to-goodness masochist who repeatedly dares life to pile on the pain. This creature breaks down doors, (probably) fucks mom, and leaps from building to building just for the hell of it. The most controversial line is typically rendered as “I’m a belly dancer/I’ll shake forever and I’ll never care,” but what I hear (and validated by user Blue Grenade on Genius Lyrics) is “I’m a belly dancer/I’ll shake for Arabs and I’ll never care.” The latter makes more sense, especially if you avoid the mistake of viewing it through a post 9/11 lens (and yes, there are male belly dancers). My take is that the song is about how people revel in their own victimization, but as blog critic Gordon Hauptfleisch concluded, what really matters is “It has a good beat and you can run a record store to it.” Two minutes of percussion-driven overdrive, distorted guitar pushing the edges of dissonance, unrestrained vocals from Francis and Kim Deal . . . then the sudden switch to muffled guitar, the drums now front and center to support the vocal duet, then—drop-dead silence. While they certainly took an unusual build path to get there, that closing passage raises the tension to the nth degree like that moment in the horror flick when the idiot is about to open the door that no one in their right mind would open and then . . . tune in next week for the thrilling finale! Arrgh! Whether “Break My Body” is the prototypical Pixies song (as Mr. Hauptfleisch argued) is good fodder for a barroom debate, but I’ll say this: I can’t imagine any other band on the planet coming up with a song quite like it.

The Pixies were given ten days to record and wrap up the album, but they got down to business and pretty much finished Surfer Rosa in a week. That left them lots of time to mess around with “experimental stuff basically to kill time.” As true in music as it is in science, some experiments work and some don’t. For “Something Against You,” Albini ran Black Francis’ vocal through a guitar amp to achieve a “totally ragged, vicious texture.” I suppose some sort of backhanded congratulations are in order, for the vocal is certainly ragged, but a.) it’s impossible to make out the words because b.) the mix doesn’t separate the vocal enough from the already ragged background featuring a combination of detuned rhythm guitar and high-distortion lead/rhythm. The lyrics consist of one line repeated several times and a closing shot: “I’ve got something against you/Oh yeah, I am one happy prick,” a wonderfully economic statement on the human tendency to take pleasure from resentment. I just think it would have been better if Francis had shaped it into a haiku and delivered the vocal from some misty mountain top.

“Broken Face” is one of the more punk-oriented pieces on the album, burning hot, hard and fast as it rips through its tale of incest in about a minute-and-a-half. The narrator seems to be the defective result of a multi-generational orgy within the family (“There was this boy who had two children with his sisters/They were his daughters/They were his favorite lovers), and at first I thought Black Francis’ imitation of the disabled kid’s speech mannerisms was rather cruel. It took me a while to shift blame to the senseless idiots who sired the kid, and though I’m still not entirely comfortable with the piece, I love the ass-kicking noise of it all.

Kurt Cobain loved Pixies music and fully acknowledged their influence, but his admiration did not prevent him from lodging a complaint with management: “I wish Kim was allowed to write more songs for the Pixies because ‘Gigantic’ is the best Pixies song and Kim wrote it.” Well, no . . . not quite. Here’s the real story as related by Kim Deal’s then-husband John Murphy in Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies:

MURPHY: Charles [“Black Francis”] came up with the riff, but he wasn’t really sure what the lyrics were going to be, so he goes, “Eh, well, Kim, why don’t you take a shot at it? The only thing I know is that I want to call it ‘Gigantic’,” and she says, “Fine.” So she comes home with it and she’s playing it on the guitar and I said, “Gigantic, okay, maybe it’s about a big mall.” She goes, “Okay, let’s try that for a while,” and I’m like, “The mall, the mall, let’s have a ball.” So I wrote that. It changed to “Hey, Paul”, because it had to rhyme. And then, a couple of days later she had fixated on this Sissy Spacek movie Crimes of the Heart about this farmworker, I think he’s a black guy, and Sissy Spacek and this farmworker get together – so that’s what it’s about. An illicit love affair.

While Kurt didn’t have the whole backstory, I do agree with his sentiments, but I would have lodged a slightly different complaint—something like, “Hey, guys, are you trying to force Kim out of the band or what?” As things turned out, Kim’s presence on Pixies albums would never come close to her near omnipresence on Surfer Rosa, where she sang lead, harmony or unison on a majority of tracks. She would only get one half-credit for songwriting on Doolittle (“Silver”) and zero on the last two Pixies efforts. When the guys rejected her original compositions as “not Pixies songs,” she formed The Breeders, in turn reducing her commitment to Pixies, in turn leading to a lot of bad juju, yada, yada, yada.

There are different mixes of “Gigantic” (the Albini version on the album, the Gil Norton version on the single), so feel free to choose one that suits your tastes. For me, the mix doesn’t matter all that much, as what draws my attention and twiddles my diddle is Kim’s vocal. There’s a wickedness in her voice as she anticipates that “hunk of love” drilling into her sweet spot (“Hey Paul, hey Paul, hey Paul, let’s have a ball”); her voice shifts to unbridled ecstasy as he delivers the goods:

Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic
A big, big love

Though I think large dongs are highly overrated and I can’t stand chick flicks, “Gigantic” never fails to thrill me.

The flip side of the “Gigantic” single was “River Euphrates,” also remixed by Norton. While the lyrics are clearer and the sound cleaner on the single, I have a strong preference for the album version for two reasons: one, Joey Santiago’s introduction is deliciously dissonant on the album, and somewhat “straightened out” on the single; and two, the “ride, ride, ride” vocals on the album sound sweeter and more natural. You’ll notice that Kim has to catch her breath a couple of times within the phrase, something that technically qualifies as poor breath control but is oh-so human (go ahead and try to duplicate the vocal and home to appreciate its difficulty). I just love how Black Francis’ mind works: “Oh, I’m out of gas in the middle of the Gaza strip, but let’s just put that jack to work, grab a couple of tires and float down the Euphrates!” No obstacle is insurmountable for Charles Michael Kitteridge Thompson IV!

“Where Is My Mind?” builds on a question you commonly pose to yourself when you forget to . . . don’t recognize . . . fuck things up . . . have a brain fart. “Okay,” you say, “But what’s the song about?” Black Francis explained exactly how I would have explained it, so rather than plagiarize, I shall cite this quotation I found on Shmoop:

I can’t explain it to you; I just think the song is likable. Even though Kim barely sings on it, there’s something about her singing that little haunting two-note riff. The same thing with Joey, he’s got a little two-note thing going on too. It’s so simple, and then there’s me in the middle singing the wacky cute little lyrics. So it’s kind of a quintessential Pixie song. It sort of displays everyone’s personalities. The song has something very likable about it and I’m not sure what it is.

Certain songs just make you feel good. You can identify the components that contribute to the “feel good” vibe of “Where Is My Mind?” (major key, minor chords used to strengthen melodic flow before returning to an uplifting major chord to finish the phrase, sufficient variation without going overboard, nice swaying beat, the stick-in-your-head two-note patterns described above, the relaxed execution), but getting the right ingredients doesn’t always result in a dish that wows the dinner party. According to standard pop formulae, “Where Is My Mind?” shouldn’t make you feel good because the lyrical lines are imbalanced and there isn’t a single rhyme in the mix. I think the key here is in the magic of the four different musical personalities, each making a distinctive contribution to a satisfying whole. At their best, Pixies are just fucking fun to listen to.

We now return to the catalog of life’s losers, and the ultimate loser in any society usually winds up in prison sooner or later unless they’re white and have enough money to float bail and afford a crack legal team. We don’t know what he’s done to earn the time, but we find the loser in “Cactus” sitting on the cement floor of his not-so-cozy bungalow bemoaning separation from his squeeze. The strong, steady thumping beat and dark minor-key guitar distortion form a background that reflects a feverish obsession, and in a voice that sounds like the whimper of a man breaking down from the experience of enforced isolation, Black Francis informs us that our anti-hero’s obsession has to do with a specific piece of apparel:

Sitting here wishing on a cement floor
Just wishing that I had just something you wore
I’d put it on when I go lonely
Will you take off your dress and send it to me?

The italics (mine) serve to identify Kim’s flashes of vocal harmony that appear in the closing words to each verse, one of those little touches in a song that make all the difference in the world (enter “Count Basie Theory” in the site search box for more information). The expressed desire to wear her dress (rather than stuff it under his pillow for a comforting beddie-bye scent) gives me the impression that the man may have been tagged to serve as the female partner in one of those prison shower romances, and Kim’s spot vocal tacked onto the narration reinforces that impression. It’s obvious that the guy is desperately trying to hold onto his heterosexuality (“I miss your kissin’ and I miss your head”) but the paranoia induced by isolation consistently leads him to worst-case-scenario thinking (“And a letter in your writing doesn’t mean you’re not dead”). The last request to his long-lost love can be interpreted as the ravings of a sicko, a plea for proof that she is still among the living or the cry of an overwrought man with an unfathomable desire to experience intimacy at the cellular level:

Bloody your hands on a cactus tree
Wipe it on your dress and send it to me

While “Cactus” lacks a proper chorus, the verses are the most conventionally-structured poetry on Surfer Rosa, with an AABB rhyme scheme. While I think that sop to tradition makes the song more accessible, our anti-hero is unlikely to evoke much sympathy from lock-’em-up Americans. Here’s a tip for those of you who have an empathy deficit: on your next vacation, head to the great city of Philadelphia, skip the Independence Hall hoo-hah and drop by the Eastern State Penitentiary. Look long and hard at the prison cells, and try to remind yourself of Phil Ochs’ admonition: “There but for fortune go you or I.”

We move on to the much lighter “Tony’s Theme,” marked by Kim Deal’s loaded-with-naive-high-schoolish-enthusiasm vocal intro and don’t-fuck-with-me lead guitar from Joey Santiago. Tony is the master of bicycling, racing and popping wheelies; the card in his spokes identifies Tony as a future wannabe Harley owner. Beneath the daredevil façade, he’s a good boy who always remembers to mow the lawn after school, a tidbit that seriously diminishes his hero status. It’s followed by the title track that is not a title track but does contain the only reference to Surfer Rosa: the Spanish-language bash, “Oh My Golly.” Opening with David Lovering’s emphatic attack on the toms (natural, of course), the song forms a celebration of a whirlwind Caribbean romance where the narrator and Surfer Rosa make out and get drunk (besando, chichando) under the Caribbean moon. The heart-thumping nature of the erotic experience is accentuated by high speed and truncated measures that intensify the out-of-control passion incited by Surfer Rosa (see tit pic above).

“Vamos” is a different take of a song that appeared on Come On Pilgrim, featuring an opening verse in Spanish where the narrator is considering the option of moving in with his sister in New Jersey, who has told him about the great life in the upscale burbs (very rich, very cool)—the East Coast preppy version of the American Dream:

We’ll keep well-bred
We’ll stay well-fed
We’ll have our sons
They will be all well hung

They’ll come and play
Their friends will say
“Your daddy’s rich
Your mamma’s a pretty thing”

The lines can also be interpreted through the lens of incest, but I think it’s equally plausible to interpret the “in-breeding” hinted at here as something involving social class and not brother and sister (old money and the trophy wife). That interpretation is reinforced by the man’s classic fascination with the hot Spanish maid, the upper-class fantasy extraordinaire. The sister’s expressed frustration that “I keep getting friends/Looking like lesbians” tells us that her enclave may be too preppy for their tastes and that they might have more luck in the less rigid but still superficial upper-class life in California. Lots of drive, noise and exuberance in this piece, with Joey Santiago’s random guitar attacks standing out.

“I’m Amazed” begins with Kim Deal telling her mates a real-life story about how a coach with a thing for field hockey players mysteriously disappeared from campus. That kind of story would draw a lot more publicity today, and somewhere in the coverage, someone who knew the pervert would shake their head and say, “I’m amazed.” Oh, bullshit. You knew something was going on and chose to ignore it. The same is true of the three incidents mentioned in the song proper—all create some form of “amazement,” but none are really all that amazing except to those who have their heads up their asses. The fascinating aspect of the music comes from the Francis-Deal vocal duet that falls somewhere between call-and-response and a half-hearted attempt at a round—chaotic and very effective.

Surfer Rosa closes hot with the blues-tinged raucousness of “Brick Is Red.” The duet that stands out here is the interplay between Santiago and Lovering in the extended intro where both men are ripping and bashing like there’s no tomorrow. The vocal duet featuring Francis and Deal ain’t half bad either, with Kim randomizing her harmonic splashes to arbitrarily highlight words and phrases that may or may not have significant meaning. Though the poetry may not make “sense,” the image of eyes turning the color of diamond—“just the color,” “the frayed color of ice”—forms a picture that is both alluring and repulsive.

What struck me most when re-engaging with Surfer Rosa is how fresh it sounds thirty-two years after its release. The feeling of spontaneity, the direct and indirect humor, the sheer excitement of the musicians as they create a novel approach to rock music—all these come through soft, LOUD and clear. It’s one of those rare albums that expand the listener’s perspective without crossing the line into pretension, and even with its occasional forays into the so-called dark aspects of the human personality, Surfer Rosa leaves you with the feeling that you’ve just had one helluva good time.

The Breeders – Last Splash – Classic Music Review

The music world is all abuzz about the return of The Breeders to the recording studio, “FEATURING THE LAST SPLASH LINEUP!” They’ve released a new single (“Wait in the Car”) in limited vinyl editions, and to my ears they sound pretty fucking fabulous. I tried to get tickets to their Paris gig on their extremely limited European tour, mais tous vendus! All sold out!

I love Nice but it’s a musical backwater. Paris gets The Breeders; we get Coldplay. Fuck.

I’m always very skeptical when a band from the past attempts to recapture their glory years, but I’m more curious than suspicious when it comes to The Breeders. They were just starting to peak with the release of Last Splash when Kelley Deal was busted for heroin possession, interrupting their trajectory and leaving admirers dreaming of what could have been. The band eventually re-formed with other members, but when they regrouped with the Last Splash lineup to support the release of a 20th anniversary edition, people really started paying attention—The Last Splash lineup has always been the gold standard as far as Breeders fans are concerned. I missed out on the original release (shit, I’d only just turned thirteen), but Last Splash became one of my favorite albums of my pre-college years. I always felt cheated by the deafening silence that followed Last Splash because I felt their catalog had a lot of room to grow. I’d love to see what they can do on a full-length LP (rumored for next year).

I’ve also learned to adopt a dubious posture when revisiting music that came out in the 90’s. It’s embarrassing to admit that most of the music I loved during my teens now sounds dated and faddish—a lot of attitude without the talent or depth to back it up (hello, Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love and Billy Corgan). Being able to brag about the great music that came out during one’s teenage years is one of the relatively few things I envy about The Baby Boomers (along with free love, birth control, civil rights and women’s liberation). While there was a lot of silly shit going on in the 60’s, there was even more great music in multiple genres that still sounds fab fifty years later. Too much of the music produced in the 90’s seems trapped in the amber of the end of the millennium, along with the Y2K non-event and thousands of belly-up dot-coms.

Last Splash is one of the few albums from the 90’s that I can unequivocally endorse. An incredibly diverse record that mixes grunge, power pop, surf, country and experimental, the quality of Last Splash is a testament to Kim Deal’s innate fascination with sound and her willingness to experiment with possibilities that most people would classify as “silly.” “Record a sewing machine?” “Yeah, what the fuck, let’s do it!” “Kelley doesn’t know how to play guitar!” “Well, she can learn.” That curiosity and courage led to the creation of alluring soundscapes and compositions that move way beyond grunge limitations, foreshadowing mid-career Radiohead (another band that began life steeped in grunge). The progressive aspects of Last Splash are delightfully balanced with glimpses of middle class Americana and more than a touch of playful humor. Kim Deal had already proved she was more than the Pixies’ bassist on The Breeders’ first release, Pod (also unequivocally endorsed), and Last Splash demonstrated her continuing development as a painter of sound and mood.

Her clear sense of intention is demonstrated in the short liberation piece, “New Year.” Opening with a simple two-note guitar pattern that feels like a gathering call, the slow and deliberate pace of the first verse, with its message “We have come for light,” seems to reflect the belief that music, through its power to capture thought and emotion that cannot be expressed through words, is a viable path to self-fulfillment. The band shifts to high power right after Kim’s insistence that “It’s true,” chugging along with Josephine Wiggs driving the rhythm with her decisive bass style, establishing a steady pattern frequently punctuated by power chords and Jim McPherson’s intense drum bursts. When Kim sings “I am the sun/I am the new year/I am the rain,” she’s not expressing ego but the feeling of power that emerges when one is immersed in the musical moment. This is why I love making noise with a distorted guitar on my piece-of-shit amp—I feel like the supreme goddess, producing wave after wave of raw power that emanates not from my hands but from my soul. Following the band’s demonstration of the thrill inherent in musical liberation, Kim quietly reaffirms that “It’s true” in her parting words, confirming in language what we intuited during that passage of unrestrained power.

Like fellow Daytonian Robert Pollard, Kim’s lyrics often tend towards the absurdist-obscurist school of poetry, though I don’t think she’s as impenetrable as some MALE critics depict her. A good example of her lyrical approach can be found in “Cannonball,” probably the song from Last Splash most familiar to the general public. The word has two complementary meanings—one is the explosive device and the other is the explosive form of diving involving bundling oneself into a tight ball before plummeting into the pool with a humongous splash that soaks everyone within 50 feet of the point of impact. Kim uses both meanings as a metaphor for explosive male energy—the destructive form used in the male sport of war and the annoying form we see in the male sport of showing off one’s masculine power and acting like a total asshole. Kim expresses what many women experience when faced with this often undisciplined power—desire (the repetition of “want you”) and danger (the repetition of “cuckoo” or “koo-koo,” a synonym for “volatile”). So, yeah, she wants to be the “bong in this reggae song” and stimulate the male sex drive, but knowing the danger, she wants to cool him off a little and find a more intimate, private mating spot (the repetition of “in the shade”). The musical support for those lyrics is fantastic, integrating fascination (the question mark expressed in the sinuous slide guitar riff) with the sense of alarm (the opening repetition of ahh-OOH) and the expression of the carnal urge (the shift to vocal distortion and all-out bash). The vocals are outstanding, with the call-and-response mirroring the inner dialogue we have with ourselves when we’re uncertain about taking the plunge with our latest object of desire. Those vocals also display the rare but fortuitous magic of twin sisters engaged in harmony, an experience deeply pleasing to the ears.

The flightiness of the male half of the species is highlighted in “Invisible Man,” featuring a dampened background of distortion, bass and synthesizer that, when mixed with Kim’s soft, husky voice, gives the song a cocoon-like feel. Thematically one of the lovelier songs on the album, the low-key melodic line and chord pattern invite a series of lovely synth and guitar fills that intensify the feeling of emptiness as you “count the bubbles in your hand.” I love how they add the sounds of a wind chime on the fade, indicating that yet another unreliable male has vanished into the wind to sow his sticky oats.

“No Aloha” is a disarming anthem to female independence from marriage and motherhood. Opening with Kim’s heavily-reverbed voice sounding like a spirit disconnected from her body, she’s soon supported by a lo-fi, heavily-reverbed slide guitar and stiff rhythm guitar that come together to create the sound of an amateur band gigging in a Honolulu tourist trap. The highlight of the song comes early, when Kim makes her own statement of liberation: “Motherhood means mental freeze.” A pretty strong statement indeed, but when you reluctantly unpack the condensed poetic message, what she’s really testifying to is the reality of a woman in a world of limited choices. The primary expectation heaped upon the vast majority of young women is motherhood, and motherhood usually involves serving as the weaker economic power in a relationship and facing a disrupted career/life path. “Oh, great, I get to stay home trying to have conversations with fucking two year-olds who need hours of attention and make a fucking mess of everything so I can wind up exhausted by nine o’clock.” No. Fucking. Thanks. While there are some women who do manage to conquer many of the obstacles that mothers face, and while there are many countries outside the USA do a much better job of supporting professional mothers, there are many women whose psyches cannot bear the thought of the oppressive responsibilities of motherhood.

It’s just not in every woman’s DNA, so leave us the fuck alone.

The second, loud section repeats the first verse, the lyrics now backed with firm intention, reflecting the confidence-nourishing tonic of independent choice. Kelley’s lead fills are outstanding, but what really jumps out at you here are Josephine Wiggs’ bass runs, capturing theme and forward movement with delightful assertiveness.

“Roi” is a fascinating instrumental mood piece that opens with Josephine’s bass mirroring the declining note pattern of The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” without the quadruplet picking and the closing note. The bass is soon surrounded by stereo distortion leading to a rising chord pattern that ends in a stop-time shift of thrilling, dissonant power chords. Kim then enters with the song’s single line: “Raw: where the shot leaves me gagging for the arrow.” After an extended, quieter passage filled with feedback and complementary sound, the bass pattern appears again to lead to a heavier passage linked thematically by that falling note pattern and the return of the dissonant chord set, unifying the composition. A piece that evokes a strange disquiet in the listener, “Roi” has no discernible connection to the French word for “king,” but to the near-homophone raw, as in raw emotion.

The Breeders oscillate between sexy, sweet and heavy on “Do You Love Me Now?” a song co-written by the twins about the lingering feelings many people experience for former partners. I’ve experienced it as the victim of a hanger-on, but never as the one wishin’ and hopin’. Once I sense that there is a disconnection in compatibility or trust, I end it—politely, honestly and firmly. While that has earned me something of a reputation as a cold bitch with former lovers, I’d rather live with that than hanging onto a relationship that’s turning sour. Kim obviously felt differently, going to the extreme of demanding the partner’s return (“C’mon c’mon come back to me right now!). It makes for a great dramatic moment, but I still have a hard time relating to that feeling. Even with my temporary abandonment of emotional intelligence, I still love the song, especially the parts that move forward in slow drive and the choral background voices on the fade.

The song on Last Splash that makes me the happiest is the instrumental “Flipside,” an under-two-minute surf explosion featuring Kelley Deal as Dick Dale and Josephine Wiggs as Nokie Edwards. Kim and Jim keep the rhythms hot, making it impossible for this girl not want to leap up out of her seat and shake her fanny like a high-speed blender. It’s also a great lead-in to the surf-punk sounds of “I Just Wanna Get Along,” a song that many believe is Kim’s big fuck you to Black Francis and Joey Santiago for rejecting her compositions as “half-songs” and “not Pixies.” Perhaps. The Prodigy just thought “I Just Wanna Get Along” was a great dance song that fit into their electronic beat paradigm. I hear the song as an indictment of male ego and couldn’t care less if that male ego belongs to Frank Black. Kudos to Kelley for her attitude-laden lead vocal and co-writing contribution.

In “Mad Lucas,” Kim paints a tone poem about a real historical figure, one James Lucas, the Hermit of Hertfordshire, labeled an “eccentric” in those pre-Freudian days of complete ignorance of mental illness. Apparently Lucas was a well-educated regular guy whose internal wiring malfunctioned after his mother’s death. After waiting three months to bury her (I hope it was winter), he locked himself in his mansion for the rest of his days and allowed no one to touch anything in the house. Without housekeeping, the place became quite a mess, but since Lucas slept naked in an ash heap, he hardly noticed. He did notice that the rats liked the place and hung his food in baskets to protect it. He allowed visitors to speak to him only through an iron grille, which was nice of him, since he didn’t bathe or cut his hair for twenty-five years and wore only an ash-soaked blanket. It is said that seventeen cartloads of dirt were removed from his house after he finally succumbed to apoplexy.

In the song, Kim actually attempts to straighten the guy out, but instead of wasting her time with therapy, says exactly what I . . . well, she took the words right out of my mouth:

Arise, wash your face
From cinder and soot
You’re a nuisance
And I don’t like dirt

The distorted voice, curious sounds and deliberately slow pace reminds me of a couple of songs from the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions, sans the computerized electronics. The music feels deliberately cramped, as if dampened by the caked dust and soot of the madman’s abode. Occasional grating sounds intensify the disconnection from the normal flow of life and the feeling of living in a rusting, rotting residence. Some find “Mad Lucas” strange; personally, I think it’s a brilliant mood piece.

Search all you want through your record collection and you will find few albums that contain back-to-back tracks with greater contrast than that between “Mad Lucas” and “Divine Hammer.” It’s like waking up from a nightmare where you spent twenty-five years in solitary to find yourself suddenly surrounded by bright sunshine, bluebirds and beds of vividly-colored flowers. However, don’t let the power pop cheer of “Divine Hammer” lead you to believe that the song lacks substance. The song is about the frequently disappointing search for something to believe in, allowing those in the know to steer you to organized religion, where you find nothing but air as you squirm in your Sunday school seat:

I’m just looking for a faith
Waiting to be followed
It disappears this near
You’re the rod, I’m water
I’m just looking for one divine hammer

The twins’ lovely harmonizing tends to grab most of your attention, but the rhythm section of MacPerson and Wiggs deserves credit for filling the song with copious amounts of rock energy.

A sewing machine and amped up secret-agent music make for a surprisingly engaging listening experience, as we learn in our second short instrumental interlude, “S. O. S.” I like these little breaks in Last Splash—they’re like an aural version of cleansing one’s palate. This particular break leads us to “Hag,” a song I’ve always interpreted through the long-standing female habit of paying obsessive attention to our appearance, every waking hour. After an energetic night of partying, fucking or whatever girls do to release the repressed energy that has accumulated during the work week, we hit the clubs and party circuits to project our beauty, flash our smiles and do our best to transform the vibes into pure conviviality with our native charm. Then, when the bars close or the passion is spent, we women collapse, pass out or fall into a sweet sleep in a lover’s arms. And the first fucking thing we do when we wake up and drag ourselves to the head for the morning pee, is stop in look in a mirror. “Hag!” we groan as we look at our smushed faces, flaked and smeared make up and ratty hair:

All night, all night, all night
Under the stars, under their light
All over the girl only looks bright

Like a woman
You’re just like a woman
You’re on again

I then forget about my urgent need to pee and do something about that ugly face and rat’s nest of a hairdo. It’s hard to escape the effects of mass cultural programming.

We’ll leave my first-world problems for another day and . . . head for the fair! If you visit the United States in the summer months, you’ll find gazillions of fairs of all types popping up all over the landscape, including state, county, food-related, church-sponsored, ethnic, Renaissance—the variations are endless. “Saints” captures the essence of the fair experience, whatever the genre. The gritty music with its attitude-drenched vocal reflects the sex-trolling aspect of a stroll through the crowds and the unsentimental attitudes of the carnies in relation to all the fun that surrounds them. Kim uses the lyrics to paint the feel, touch, smell and taste of the event:

I like all the different people
I like sticky everywhere
Look around, you bet I’ll be there!
Hot metal in the sun
Pony in the air
Sooey and saints at the fair

“Sticky everywhere” is a phrase I relate to immediately, because when I think “fair,” my memory fills my nostrils with the scent of cotton candy, toffee apples and caramel corn. It’s not a pleasant memory (I’m not big on sweets, so I go for the corn dogs) but a vivid one, and I would imagine that for an Ohio girl like Kim, “sticky” also describes the humid summer weather of the Midwest. “Saints” rocks with a certain swagger, and passes the Sartrean existential validity test with flying colors.

Now we begin to lope to the finish line with a song from a band that hardly anyone knew existed until The Breeders covered this song. The band went by the name Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, whom AllMusic described as “A quirky folk group who defy an easy placement in genre.”

I’m going to have to check out Ed’s Redeeming Qualities. “Quirky” often means there’s something interesting there that the music industry can’t process.

The song in question, “Drivin’ on 9,” was co-written by ERQ’s co-founder Dom Leone, who died of cancer in the band’s early days. The Breeders got wind of it through ERQ band member Carrie Bradley, who provides violin accompaniment here. A song with clear country and bluegrass connections doesn’t sound like something that would land anywhere near The Breeders’ sweet spot, but Kim plays the role of white trash girl living and longing near the highway as if she’d been singing country all her life (a statement with some truth to it, as one of the first songs she learned on guitar in her pre-teen years was Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”). The band provides solid support, and the decision to ask Carrie Bradley to play the fiddle sealed the deal. While sometimes you laugh at the girl’s predicament, in the end you feel sympathy for the girl and sadness about the hand she’s been dealt—abandoned by a lover and stuck with a daddy who’s unwilling to save the day with a shotgun wedding.

Last Splash ends with a brief reprise of “Roi” and the repetition single line, “Raw: where the shot leaves me gagging for the arrow.” I’m not particularly thrilled about the reprise, as the song follows several pieces that are as far away from “Roi” as you can imagine, so its reappearance seems out-of-the-blue. I think ending Last Splash with “Driving on 9” would have been a much more effective sendoff.

Last Splash is a great album by a group of musicians who absolutely clicked in studio and on stage. While I’m looking forward to the new studio effort, I’m going to make every effort to rid myself of any expectations that the new album will be as good or will even sound like Last Splash. Almost twenty-five years have passed since its release, and over a span of twenty-five years, people change and sometimes even grow. Whatever The Breeders come out with should be considered on its own merits in the context of the 21st century—and even if the new album turns out to be a less-than-satisfying experience, nothing The Breeders do now or in the future will diminish what they accomplished in Last Splash.

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