[2 May 2014]
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. Taken together, these facts are rife for breeding cynicism and accusations that the group is washed up, has forsaken their artistic integrity and is merely motivated for the dollar at the expense of their former glory. In other words, the typical criticisms any reunited band must face when putting out new material. More times than not, those suspicions of a band’s authenticity are valid and spot-on, but there are exceptions. Are the Pixies one of them?
The biggest issue Black, Joey Santiago and David Lovering need to live down with Indy Cindy is that there is no new material here. It’s a compilation record, the track list reshuffled from the recent run of EPs. Maybe this was done to give a veneer of freshness, but instead it encourages the percolating jadedness of the band’s true intentions. While an album started to seem inevitable about two years into their reunion, the desultory manner in which this one manifested makes it contend with a sense of the obligatory. And, of course, Deal’s absence is a glaring sore spot that many will not entertain even getting past. The Pixies’ drafting of Kim Shattuck then Paz Lenchantin to replace Deal also reeks of an attempt to have a woman in the band more for image than substance.
Yet, what all of those inherent preconceptions fail to broach is whether the songs themselves have merit, and if their arrangement together amounts to a worthwhile entry in the Pixies’ discography or is rather a blight upon it. Going into it, many Pixies fans may wish their ears could wince, hoping to guard themselves against likely disappointment. The most unexpected development, then, is that the songs are mostly alright; some are even fucking good. That said, many are also forgettable and come across as lazy regurgitations, but the ones that shine do so in luminous fashion, and the finest tunes are in the ballad camp.
“Greens and Blues”, clearly the best, has a mid tempo rhythm and sweeping psychedelic guitar, Black cooing feelings of wanderlust like, “I said I’m human but you know I lie / I’m only visiting this shore / I’ll be soon leaving in the outbound tide / I pray again we will meet.” It’s effervescent and to claim it doesn’t put a smile on your face is an exercise is being contrarian. The title track alternates between Black sputtering nonsensical vitriol and offering an endearing lust in a moving falsetto. Shifting signatures, a frenzied Santiago solo and the building yearning in the evocative refrain make it seem a hodgepodge of different songs mashed together, but it works. “Andro Queen”, with its military-march drumming, stardust-fluttering guitars and Francis’ unnerving yet romantic declarations, hooks you in and entices repeated listens.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Pixies material without that dark underbelly. The stalker vibe and menacing chug of “Magdalena 318” could have found a home on Bossanova, and the down tempo lurch of “Silver Snail” is ominous as hell, Black ruminating about desperation, cradling a loaded gun in bed and suicide scenes. Though the latter both throbs and hypnotizes, it also bolsters the idea that the band is going through the motions, as predictable as it is (when Black sings “On my way back to one”, was there any doubt he’d complete the rhyme with the word “gun”?). Hammering drums, buzzing bass and apocalyptic caution define “Snakes”, Black prophesying an onslaught of serpents with apt guitar lines slither along. With its cowbell thump and monster-stomping rhythm, plus the tongue-in-cheek occult nods and swaggering sex appeal, “Blue Eyed Hexe” bears a definite Queens of the Stone Age influence, and for that alone, it’s intriguing. It also features Black’s most savage yawp of the album.
In short, all of the Pixies hallmarks are here — crunchy guitars, Black alternating from high-end croon to lacerating screeching, snippets in Spanish, odes to mythic goddesses of the cosmos, dark tonalities and lyrics of free association that are vivid in their imagery. At times, those same standard Pixies motifs are also what hold them back, erecting a gap between them and their audience. Yes, they’re doing all they can do hit the marks, but this also has the vivacity of going through the items on a checklist. The crystal sheen of the production support this distance as well. Elements that used to surprise in a Pixies song are just no longer surprising, but are instead de rigueur. Try as one might to shed the notions that this is a put-on, it’s a challenge to not view this as a verisimilitude of the Pixies. So, while Indie Cindy is not an objectively bad album, it does fail to live up to the Pixies’ caliber, and a few noteworthy songs does not an exceptional record make. It’s not an outright assault on their legacy, but neither is it an addition that will come anywhere close to their established oeuvre. In many ways, it regrettably falls in the bin of most reunion albums, being a dispatch from a band that is still technically capable, but should have just left well enough alone. But hey, it doesn’t even approach the level of dignity-thrashing and embarrassment as does turning “Gigantic” — a paean about a penis — into a jingle in a damn Apple commercial.