Release Date: Apr 29, 2014
Record label: PIAS
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
It’s been quite a long time since Pixies released a new studio album, 23 years in fact. When their last record, 1991’s ‘Trompe le Monde’, came out, Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ had just been released, and grunge was about to take over the world.But the soft/loud dynamic that became synonymous with that movement owes much to the Pixies. Things are no different on ‘Indie Cindy’, which sounds like it was written when Black Francis and co were at the height of their powers.With album opener ‘What Goes Boom’ they are as biting and acerbic as ever, with Francis spitting his lyrics over scything, discordant guitars.
You can’t head out on reunion tours making a killing for 10 years and not give fans new music and, in that sense, this first Pixies album since 1991’s ‘Trompe Le Monde’ is long overdue. That it’s arrived in the lumpy manner of being made up entirely of songs from three EPs that have already been released matters far less; there are no rules for how to release albums anymore and there’s no question that ‘Indie Cindy’ is an album, not a compilation. It comes complete with Gil Norton production and Vaughan Oliver artwork and it could be like the old days, expect bassist Kim Deal walked out of the band in the early moments of the Pixies recording new material at Rockfield Studios in Wales in 2012.
I rather like the way the Pixies went about releasing this new material. Dosed out via slow drip, it gave us time to digest and get over the fact that Kim Deal had quit the band as well as adjust to the cleaner modern production. They are releasing EP3 on its own as well as part of the LP Indie Cindy, so if you've been keeping up you have the full length as the 3 EPs added together, or if you haven't been following the EPs you can just buy the full-length and have them all at once.
Unlike the slew of legendary acts -- including My Bloody Valentine, Boards of Canada, and Daft Punk -- who surprised fans with new albums in 2013, Pixies emerged from their lengthy recording hiatus more cautiously. By releasing a series of EPs that were eventually collected as Indie Cindy for 2014's Record Store Day, the band eased fans into their new material -- and, perhaps, gave them time to lower their expectations. Indie Cindy may be most notable for illustrating the pitfalls genre-defining artists face when attempting a comeback: Pixies had such an impact on how indie rock sounded in their wake that upon their return, it's almost inevitable that they sound like they're aping themselves.
How long were they supposed to wait? Ten years after the Pixies launched their reincarnation as a touring band, they've cranked out a new album – exactly what fans praised them for not doing back in 2004. It might seem like sacrilege, especially without the much-missed sass of Kim Deal, but that depends on how mystical you want to get about a band as pop as the Pixies. Indie Cindy has hit-or-miss songs already released via digital dribbles and drabs.
You are probably aware, because you read music websites, that the new Pixies isn’t exactly the group you knew, grew up with and loved. Maybe you’ve made your mind up about Indie Cindy. Alternative rock godhead Kim Deal left the band to lead the equally estimable Breeders to critical acclaim and worldwide success with a couple of masterpieces (Pod, Last Splash) and at least one cult classic.
Anyone inclined to ponder the changing of attitudes towards beloved rock acts reuniting is advised to look at the respective fortunes of Television and Pixies. The former – an east coast act famed for a unique perspective on alternative guitar rock, sounding utterly unlike anyone else, immune to copyists, makers of a debut album that remains a milestone, and possessors of a sizable cult audience in Europe first time round – returned in 1992. They made an album that was pretty good – far better, in fact, than one might reasonably have expected – and hit the worldwide gig circuit in a limited fashion for a couple of years.
When Pixies reformed back in 2003, they were quite rightly welcomed back with open arms. Deeply influential, highly revered, with a small but almost perfect back catalogue, the new fans gained through the endorsement by the majority of loud/quiet/loud rock bands that came after them now had the opportunity to have them as an active entity for the first time in their lives, while their older fans got the chance to put their battered copy of Doolittle to one side and were able to hear these tracks for the first time in over a decade. That was eleven years ago, the reformation has now lasted longer than their original existence, and until last year’s EP 1, they only had one new track to their name: Kim Deal’s instantly disposable “Bam Thwok” from 2004.
Pixies are an incredible band, when you really think about it. They emerged at a time in rock and roll when glam was the norm, punk was homogenized, and everything else was gloomy and self-absorbed. Then, here comes this band of not exactly glamorous misfits, wearing old jeans and drinking beer, and performing the hell out of weird songs referencing obscure Biblical characters and describing facial mutilation.
A reunion isn’t “officially” a reunion until you actually put out a number of new material to warrant if such return was even necessary to begin with. There’s a reason to evangelize the album format as the defining measure for artistic credibility, which is why it’s the hardest for established musicians rekindling their legacy to get right. It’s challenging to recapture a magic that is long gone, which brings the following argument forward: either completely change to a more sensible sound that suits your age, or thrive on a reasonable facsimile of the past that doesn’t betray your highly-regarded body of work.
The baggage preceding the Pixies’ sorta reunion album, Indie Cindy, can’t be ignored, so let’s just address it and get it out of the way. Yes, it’s been 10 years since the group reformed. Bassist and Black Francis/Frank Black foil Kim Deal is no longer present. The 12 songs on the record were all previously released on a series of three EPs.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. You know, after us music hacks have completed our PhDs, we are all required to go to arts journalism finishing school in Switzerland. There, we're imparted the 21st century's golden rule for generating interest in your column inches: drop in a controversial statement early on, then argue it for all you are worth.
“But everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band,” Brian Eno once said about The Velvet Underground’s meager-selling debut. It might be even more hyperbolic to equate that level of influence to twisted alt rock progenitors the Pixies, but I still can’t help but imagine professed Pixies fan Kurt Cobain listening to “Gigantic” and scribbling notes. “I really remember thinking, ‘That is such a Pixies rip,’” Dave Grohl once confessed about “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
There's an old saying which states you should never look back. However, where Pixies are concerned, it's nigh on impossible to talk about them without referring to their legacy. Quite simply, they were responsible for unleashing not one, but two of the Eighties' most definitive albums. If the Steve Albini produced debut Surfer Rosa set the ground rules in the spring of 1988, then its successor Doolittle, released just a year later, heralded them as one of the most important acts of their generation.
For many, the music produced by the Pixies in their first, brief time together remains the benchmark by which to judge all alternative rock that’s come since. Over the course of five years they created an insular and exotic world of hysterical noise with an often demented sense of humour and an instinctive feel for melody and dynamics. Somewhat against the odds, their songs have become incredibly popular staples, but it’s also safe to say there’s a teenager out there just discovering the group, convinced that only they really “get” Pixies.
In 2010, after spending a half-decade collecting overdue checks on an extended series of Pixies reunion tours, Black Francis laid all his cards on the table in a surprisingly candid interview with The Quietus: “This ain’t about the art anymore. I did the arty farty part. Now let’s talk about the money.” By that point, the dollar signs in the Pixies’ eyes shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise.
"I'm the burghermeister of purgatory!" offers Black Francis on Indie Cindy, title track of the first Pixies album in 23 years. Pronouncements like these go with the territory; it's what we pay him to do. Since the Pixies' inception – Boston, 1986 – Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV (his real name) has held forth on debasement, molestation, mutilation, poor mental health and surrealism, crooning and screaming by turns.
Indie Cindy represents either an act of masochistic bravado, a display of stark determination, or—and this is the worst option—an act of blindered ignorance. The Pixies’ first album in 23 years is a compendium of tracks they released on two EPs and one single, the first released way back in September and the most recent in January. To say none of these was well-received might be to understate the soul-wrenching disappointment the EPs triggered in fans and critics.
The general consensus was that the Pixies new comeback album, Indie Cindy, was going to be an inevitable disappointment, due to the unreasonably high expectations of Pixies fans who have conglomerated into a cult-like crew. Not to mention the fact that the album is the first new material released by the band after a mere 23-year hiatus, a tactic we’ve seen recently from groups with similar cult followings like My Bloody Valentine. Further coloring this release were the negative feelings engendered when the band booted original memeber, bassist Kim Deal, who does not appear on this new one.
It’s hard to begrudge the Pixies their belated, somewhat mercenary victory laps over the past decade. They never really reaped the benefits that came easily to acolytes (like Nirvana) who carried forth their substantial influence. So the fact that the first Pixies album since Bush 41 was president isn’t just a bitter cash grab is something of a marvel; if nothing else, most of “Indie Cindy” has a reason for being beyond simply “Give us what’s ours.” The derangement that more than anything else — more than the quiet/loud dynamics, the shrieking mania, the surrealistic imagery — made the Pixies the Pixies remains firmly in place.
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.
Watching someone grow old daily is a subtle, sometimes imperceptible process. But when a friend shows up again after more than two decades, the reunion can be a shock, and the focus is almost inevitably on what the person is now not. So it is as well with bands, and clearly, Pixies, Mk. II risks such a heartbreaking rejection at nearly every level.
Indie Cindy, Pixies’ first album in 23 years, too often recalls its lacklustre predecessor Trompe Le Monde. With the alt-greats’ once revelatory formula yielding diminishing returns, and Black’s genius for inverting rock conventions waning, on Trompe Le Monde – the album we thought would be the group’s last – Pixies sought refuge in the very style they set out to subvert: classic rock. Over two decades later, history repeats itself.