Words by Abi Whistance
It feels necessary for this review to come with a cover letter of sorts. When it comes to Pixies, I’m a diehard. In my eyes, Francis can do no wrong.
Yet, on receiving a copy of new album Beneath the Eyrie, I knew I needed to put my Surfer Rosa loving, Trompe Le Monde abiding ways behind me. So, this is it – welcome, not to a shrine, but to a review.
I’ve never heard anyone say their favourite album by Pixies is Indie Cindy, and if they did I’d hurtle a copy of anything else in their discography at them and declare them criminally insane. What made, and continues to make, Pixies so goddamn great is their unadulterated strangeness, rage and ability to make you sick to your stomach.
In the same way Indie Cindy is good but lacking in the musto-gusto, Beneath the Eyrie just ain’t their best. It’s passive in parts, lacking the otherworldly force you know exists but can’t quite put your finger on, and kind of pussyfoots its way through twelve tracks. For Pixies, a vast chunk of this album is unremarkable; a strong start dwindles away into records that play it safe, occasionally throwing a much needed wild-card in there to grab your attention again as the mind wanders.
Yet there are still some real gems to find on here. Album opener, ‘In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain’, makes for one of the best on the record – setting the tone for a surprisingly consistent forty minute ride of more subdued Pixies material. Standard biblical omens and a strong riff are all they need to get my attention, and in the first few minutes I’m feeling satisfied. Promotional single, ‘On Graveyard Hill’ features our beloved screeches and howls from Francis himself – no doubt as a demonstration that hey, the kid’s still got it and he’s not afraid to let us have it.
We then slip into the mediocre, which makes it even more infuriating when they throw a kicker in the mix with ‘St. Nazaire’. One of the best modern Pixies tracks to date, it feels wasted on an album that for the most part doesn’t deserve to possess such a, for want of a better word, kick-ass track. The musical lull perishes and suddenly there’s fire here; this is exactly what I wanted from the whole album and failed to get from pretty much anything else on it.
Nevertheless, it must be noted that what Beneath the Eyrie lacks in strength it regains in its storytelling ability. It seems to me that a choice has arisen with this record, a choice between weaving fiction and sounding mighty had splayed itself on the table, and for most tracks Pixies have sacrificed the power for the fable. The carefully fashioned imagery of ‘Catfish Kate’ and ‘Silver Bullet’ stand as a reminder of that, crafting complex stories that can sway you to forget what it is they’re missing.
So, do I like it? Of course I do, and so will everyone else. It’s great. It’s fantastic, even. But does it give me the fuck yeah feeling I was gifted with Trompe Le Monde, or even Head Carrier? No.
There’s nothing wrong with this record just being good. With a back catalogue as strong as that of Pixies, there’s no harm in dropping a, let’s say, ‘filler-not-killer’ into the mix. Three years ago, Head Carrier threw us right back to the band at their finest hour; tracks like ‘Baal’s Back’ and ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ quelling all doubts that they’d ripened and gone soft.
Maybe if Beneath the Eyrie wasn’t preceded by such a formidable force of an album I’d be concerned, but instead this feels like the calm after the storm.
‘On Graveyard Hill’ – Pixies
Pixies release Beneath the Eyrie on Friday 13th September, out on Infection/BMG and available through all the usual online outlets. For more on Pixies, including links to online sales, visit www.pixiesmusic.com
Pixies will also be performing at the O2 Academy Birmingham on Monday 16th September – for more direct gig information, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.
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