Coming back after ten years
Ten years after their fourth release, Mountain Battles, The Breeders return with All Nerve. This eleven-track album continues to display Kim Deal’s vocals in the forefront, but maybe they could benefit from featuring another singer.
Obviously, the stylistic choices an artist makes are often ones that play to his/her strengths, even if the strengths are only relative. Sadly, that is the case for Deal and her vocal abilities. Her sound is unique, but also lacks the fullness of sound that you get with most other singers. The result is melodies sounding like the singer doesn’t care enough about the lyrical content or the musicality, and lacks the ability to evoke a feeling in her listeners. There are successful singers that are by no means “good” singers, like Bob Dylan, but Deal is not in that sweet spot where her voice is widely desirable despite skill limitations.
Admittedly, this does make it harder to focus on her messages, seldom aiding in the storytelling. The best example is “Spacewoman.” Her less talented vocals help evoke the feeling of the loneliness of being the only person out in space, walking on the moon by yourself. This is a refreshing approach to talking about space, taking a break from the usual glamorization of the night sky, the stars, etc. No one can truly grasp the incredible isolation that this character must, this song acting as the closest anyone could get to knowing that feeling.
Throughout the album, the guitarist has just a little too much fun with the distortion pedal, throwing in riffs here and there in a haphazard, “look at me, I have this cool sound effect” way that distracts the listener like a pest and does not augment the listening experience. “Archangel’s Thunderbird” has a solid guitar part that livens up the drum beat, and “Nervous Mary” is largely supported by the guitar playing as well.
“MetaGoth” and “Walking with the Killer” both make for calm background music (for doing homework or reading, say), and the latter tells a rather interesting story of a person who rides shotgun to a murderer and the atypical life he/she leads. Again, it’s a bit of a challenge to pick out the words Deal is using, especially since the recording for “Walking with the Killer” is drum-centric and oddly so, each ping of the ride cymbal is made quite clear.
The most beautiful moment on the album is “Dawn: Making an Effort.” The ninth track of eleven, it opens with just the instruments humming idyllic chords, reminding of a place that can only be described as heaven on Earth. When Deal starts singing, none of the precious, majestic feelings go away, but instead, she simply glazes the tune with her best singing yet. While it would make for a fantastic ending track, placing it two from the end makes for a successfully interesting song order.
Although it is not an album that can be easily described, given the duality of its weak and strong moments, it is a commendable choice on The Breeders part to return after ten years.