Review Summary: A stunning mix of Pixies' and Throwing Muses' iconic sound, resulting in a far better album than the average side project could manage.
Travel back to 1990. Little less than a year after the release of Doolittle
, Pixies rise to fame and become one of the most important indie rock bands of the moment. As lead singles Here Comes Your Man
, about "hobos traveling on trains and dying in earthquakes", and Monkey Gone To Heaven
receive big radio airplay from MTV and climb the singles charts at an impressive speed, the band comprised of Black Francis, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering become "rock stars" almost effortlessly. Further acclaim by fans and critics, and sales success, eventually contributes to rising tensions between Francis and Deal (Frankfurt incident pops to mind). After a lengthy tour in support of the blockbuster album, fatigue is visible in nearly every member of the band. Black Francis decides it's best to go on a small hiatus, to recover strength and try to calm down the tensions between Deal and himself. While Francis, Santiago and Lovering all decide to go on a small vacation, Deal wastes no time in assembling an all-girl group, including Tanya Donelly from indie rock quartet Throwing Muses, to occupy her time and finally gain more freedom as a songwriter herself. Far better than the average side project, the newly formed group The Breeders release in that same year the debut album Pod
, a superb, uncompromising and direct record that shows how much Pixies missed out on by not allowing Kim Deal much space as a songwriter.
Deal had begun assembling material since Pixies' debut album, 1988's Surfer Rosa
, but Black Francis, always a control maniac we've come to know and love, was Pixies' primary songwriter and kept Kim's contributions at a minimum. Her newfound creative freedom fronting The Breeders allowed her to develop songwriting skills hugely, which would've complemented beautifully her main band's albums later on. Upon recording a demo tape, 4AD offered Kim and Tanya Donelly a low budget contract to make an album. Recruiting bassist Josephine Wiggs, the band also landed production help from noise rock household Steve Albini. At Albini's suggestion, Slint drummer Britt Walford was called to round out the lineup and begin recording. Finished in merely 10 days, Pod
is a product any band could be proud of, a memorable debut album, just as catchy as it is intelligent, intriguing and playful, all in one listen. Strongly based on Pixies' sound just as much as Throwing Muses', Pod
manages to be raw and melodic at the same time, all of which contribute to a memorable and overlooked alternative rock record, one of the most original and catchy of the 90's.
The gloomy opener Glorious
sets a haunting tone for what's about to come. The heavy bass and Deal's somber vocals provide a dark sound for the song, magnified by its evocative lyrics and the dazzling "It's glorious" hook. An opener that grows in every listen and resonates in some of the tracks that follow. While most of the other songs in Pod
musically appear to sound more joyful and colorful, aside from a few exceptions, most tend to have relatively disturbing and delicate lyric topics (once again echoing Kim's main band) which, balanced alongside the catchy nature of the music, result in a truly memorable set of songs. Take lead single Hellbound
, for instance. A pumping bass line, a simple guitar riff and an addictive chorus, which merely consists of a repetition of the word "hellbound" over and over, comprise the song's highlights, in what's probably the most hard rocking tune to be found here. The lyrics about abortion contrast the otherwise lively and ecstatic music. Recurring topics of sex, death and drug addiction, namely heroin, appear almost constantly in Pod
, adding a surprisingly unique style to The Breeders' sound.
More important than the lyrics is the music itself, though. As great as they may be, they can only make a certain impact if the music isn't up to standards. Here, that's no problem at all. Boasting some truly simple and beautiful playing by every one here, and containing some superb vocals mainly by Kim Deal, Pod
garners huge replay value, since almost every tune is as distinctive as it is memorable. To name a few, Doe
is one of The Breeders' finest compositions, in which Tanya Donelly adds an excellent rhythm over her guitar and Kim sings delightful wordless vocals in the chorus, displaying the singular Breeders sound. The use of violin in When I Was A Painter
brings a welcomed diversity to the album, and Tanya's slick vocal delivery in the line "Go, go, go" is bound to get stuck in your head for days. The innocent poppy sound of Fortunately Gone
and Only in 3's
should be enough to justify the influence it had on Nirvana, only to give way to Iris
, a hidden alternative rock gem from start to finish, right from to the jagged opening guitar chord to Deal's insanely catchy "Hour by hour" line. Possibly the best song in an album full of superb songs.
However, what stands out the most in The Breeders' debut album Pod
is that, even if individually mostly every song sounds excellent, together they seem to gain an even greater strength. The flow of the album sounds so effortlessly tremendous that it's hard not to enjoy even tiny bits of Pod
. Even if initially conceived as a simple side project, and even if The Breeders retain many traits of Pixies and Throwing Muses, they're far more than a basic blueprint of Deal and Donelly's main bands, managing to create a unique sound altogether. Creative, catchy and easy to listen to, Pod
is probably among some of the most strong and underappreciated, overlooked alternative rock albums of the 90's. Not only do The Breeders' original compositions retain quite a joyful attitude, they also manage to pull off a masterful cover of Beatles' Happiness Is A Warm Gun
. You know you've got a strong album on your hands when Kurt Cobain names it as one of the most influential of his life and Steve Albini ranks it among his best works.