Oh, How Times Have Changed
Before you listen to this four-track teaser of an EP from the Pixies, set aside all your expectations. This reunited version of the band, sans the recently departed Kim Deal, has released its first real new music since the ’90s. In the long hiatus, there were a few scattered releases, including a one-off in 2004 and “Bagboy” earlier this summer. EP-1 is the first of a few promised releases of new material, and it’s certainly new for the Pixies.
EP-1 begins with the strange, spacey dream of “Andro Queen.” A steady drum, vibrating bass and shivering, airy reverb-drenched guitars accompany Black Francis/Frank Black’s plaintive vocals. A militant drum pounces in to drive the song’s strange love-story narrative, as Francis sings, “One day she’ll come in to my window / yes, she gave me her own true pledge / for what’s missing, I’ll sacrifice my flesh,” moving on to describe “loving on a bed of flowers / breathing in the smell of her musk.” The weird, alien romance sprinkled with Esperanto doesn’t come as that much of a surprise, considering that this is the Pixies, but it’s the music that does: the instrumentals of “Andro Queen” are the easily forgotten melodies of soft pop, soaked in so much reverb you’d think you were hearing the song over the airwaves from whatever odd planet Francis seems to be channeling his story.
And that’s the same problem with “Another Toe.” There’s a simple drum-and-bass beat, a catchy melody with a hooky, distorted guitar riff cajoled into the prescribed format of every pop-rock song ever to hit the radio. “I’ll be here for the rest of my life / making love in the cool white sand,” Francis sings. “I have a drink / I start to sink / another toe in the ocean.” There’s nothing wrong with “Another Toe,” but there’s nothing about it to make it worthy of the Pixies’ name either. It’s rather sad, in fact, to see the Pixies write a song like “Another Toe,” which really wouldn’t be that out of place on some Top 40 list. The EP’s last track, “What Goes Boom,” suffers from the same issues, too. Joey Santiago sounds like he’s attempting to assault listeners’ ears with hard, heavily distorted riffs churning out in a sort of after-thought to the tame pop of the earlier tracks, as if to say the band’s still got some grit left.
The EP’s best point is unarguably “Indie Cindy,” a chameleon of a song that begins with a twangy guitar riff mimicking the rambling guitars of languid alt-country. But after a few measures, the guitar suddenly tightens up into a powerful, rocking riff. Francis comes in with the angst turned up, spitting out rough pronouncements with scorching venom: “No soul, my milk is curdled, / I’m the burgermeister of purgatory,” he snarls, “You put the cock in cocktail, man.” And just as quickly, the prowling guitar eases into a strikingly melodic chorus, with Francis switching into yet another love story, even accompanied by a bluesy harmonica for a few stanzas before morphing back again.
“Indie Cindy” shows that the Pixies haven’t totally lost their way without Kim Deal, but they’re wandering a bit far afield. The problem with EP-1 isn’t its newness, or its disparity from the Pixies’ earlier work, but its lack of coherence and uneven quality. Let’s hope that Black Francis and company find their way.