Review Summary: What if there was a Pixies album that wasn't cool?
When I first discovered the Pixies back in high school, I did so via a cavernous romp of a late night bedroom listening session in which I blazed through all four of their studio albums front to back and then back again. 16 year old me emerged from this night thinking, ***, this band is probably the coolest band to ever exist. They had the fat white guy singer with a badass fake name, the ethnic guitarist, the chick bassist, and the drummer who's just sort of, well, there, but undeniably so. They made music that was raw and aggressive and angry and volatile and at the same time sugary sweet. They were Kurt Cobain's favorite band and they pioneered the dynamics that made Nirvana a household name. One of their best songs was featured in the final moments of Fight Club, and that scene would be nowhere near as iconic without the cue of those ethereal Kim Deal vocals and Joey Santiago's jagged guitar line holding it up. I realized then that claiming to like the Pixies would almost seem like copping out to win cool points. Anyone who wouldn't like this band would have to be a total square- you know, like dads who bear an uncanny resemblance to Hank Hill, or the people who thought it would be a good idea to play a Bon Jovi song at graduation. They were to "cool" what Nickelback was to "lame", which is to say that the Pixies were, quite simply, quintessentially cool, and liking them just seemed to be another way of a person asserting that they "get it." Your coolest, smartest friends probably love the Pixies. Any sort of cool, influential older mentor you've had? Probably a Pixies fan. And that cute hipster girl you randomly made out with at a party in college who subsequently left your heart throbbing three days later with her cold rejection? I'll bet she liked the Pixies most of all. Listening to classic Pixies gave "cool", this term that was previously so hard to accurately and adequately define, a sort of grounds to operate from. This status was, in all truth, probably enhanced by the fact that it appeared that I'd never get to see the band live, nor would I ever get to hear any new music from the group. For a long time I wondered what a new Pixies album would sound like, but never did I stop to think that it wouldn't be cool, much less that it would ever actually be made. It just didn't seem plausible- but here we are in 2014, and "Indie Cindy" kind of sucks.
But what went wrong exactly? What's lies in the concoction of this relative failure? The answer's simpler than you might think. First, take a group of aging musicians- they may have legendary pasts, but their youthful exuberance reached its heyday long ago- and subtract a key part of their winning formula in bassist Kim Deal, who quite possibly may have been the key to the the spark that made the band so special in the first place. Then slowly and systematically wipe out any momentum a new album could have had by playing a decade's worth of reunion shows and then partitioning out the new material in haphazard chunks through three sequentially released EP's, each one met with less public enthusiasm and interest than the last. On top of all that, make sure that almost every trace of the band's unique fire is abolished from the recording process, leaving Black Francis' sometimes scathing, sometimes wonderfully odd lyrics and visceral vocal delivery to the realm of distant memory. Make sure these songs have an aesthetic appeal that assures no one cares what they are about. In the end, you wind up with a Pixies album that has more than a few tracks that you could find Hank Hill bobbing his head along to. It's happened. The Pixies have come back, and their new album is decidedly not cool- ***ing Pitchfork said so, for god's sake.
It can't all be bad though, right? Well, it's not so bad that you should feel ashamed about wearing your Pixies t-shirt to some sort of social function or something. Their legacy will undoubtedly persist, and their cool factor will endure (largely) undamaged. Concert setlists could be lightly sprinkled with these new tracks and diehard fans would probably still leave with the feeling that their money and time have been well spent. These songs are not abominations, though it will be hard for some to accept a Pixies album that sounds so bland. Many songs tend to blend together thanks to a lack of distinctiveness in many of them, but tracks like "Blue Eyed Hexe" and the interesting "Bagboy" do up the energy enough to keep snoozers like the spacey "Andro Queen" and the boring, cliche "Jaime Bravo" from derailing the album into a complete train wreck. Also, I'll be damned if I don't get "Another Toe" or "Snakes" stuck in my head sometimes- the group's knack for catchy pop melodies is as present as its ever been. That being said, if you're a die hard and you're going to give "Indie Cindy" a shot, be ready to accept this side of the band with only faint glimmers of the darker, weirder twists that often lurked behind the corners of their old records. I have walked away from the album slightly amused, but mostly just wondering why they felt like releasing new music if that was the best effort they could put forth. The high school me who fell in love with the band's discography years ago probably would have disinterestedly went to bed early midway through the album if it was "Indie Cindy" I first heard instead of "Surfer Rosa." Interested newcomers to the band: Listen to the Pixies chronologically. Everyone else: Listen to "Indie Cindy" at your own risk.