Ranking Breeders albums

Of course Kim Deal needed the Pixies. So did Charles Francis Thompson. I recognize their band’s significance. But since the late nineties I’ve found the Breeders a listening experience consonant with my musical values while the Pixies exert the fascination of stoned iguanas sunning themselves on a pool deck.

1. Last Splash (1993)

One killer after another, the drums as loud as splashes, the guitars a threat to Nirvana, Pixies, whomever. Full of aperçus to treasure (“If you’re so special, why aren’t you dead?”) and yearnings too murked up by those same drums and guitars, and scoured of bathos by Deal’s asphalt-dry delivery. I hear “Divine Hammer” as a hymn as much as a confession of lust, for didn’t Al Green teach us they were the same thing? An inexhaustible album, emblematic of its era without producing throat clearing and equivocations like, oh, Nevermind does, ideal for drivin’ all 9 down highways at nine. Major flaw: why the hell didn’t they include the Josephine Wiggs-sung cover of Aerosmith’s “Lord of the Thighs”?

2. Title TK (2002)

Speaking of driving, the nine-year delay between Breeders records almost equaled how long this CD stayed stuck in my Ford Explorer player. It never did emerge, and I bought a fresh copy, a further contribution to the Kim Deal Pension Fund (I sold the Explorer in 2015 with Title TK still stuck in the player, my Excalibur). Listen to Kim Deal’s third album under the Breeders moniker as the fleabag equivalent of Steely Dan’s Gaucho and Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns — a state of being in which, to quote Go-Between Robert Forster, you’re “slowly dying in a clinic just outside L.A.” (“just” is the filigree distinguishing the good from the great songwriter). Recorded mostly by Deal herself from what sounds like a carpeted basement, Title TK is Deal’s most gnomic she could have put the titles, mixed them up, and affixed them to other songs. But the sense in which she’s playing deep within smog she concentrates: the organ in “The She” is most welcome, “Off You” has a close-mike intimacy she hadn’t yet essayed. As a middle finger to skeptics she hauls out the riffage for closers “T & T” and “Huffer.”

3. All Nerve (2018)

Facing the reality of a monolith of Western civilization, Deal kicks up dirt as guys hiss. Few pop artists give so little shits for “art.” She plays rock: laconic, bone-hard. She could’ve released All Nerve in 2013 or 1992. I give it such high marks because these virtues resonate more than ever in 2018. My review published earlier this year.

4. Mountain Battles (2008)

Like every Breeders album except this year’s, Mountain Battles disappeared after the the first couple weeks of buzz, a result of being taken for granted, I guess (like Talking Heads in their Naked phase, only the Breeders were better). When Deal shouts, “I can feel it!” over yards of echo on opener “Overglazed” she sounds free. Jose Mendele’s drum pattern on “German Studies” should’ve inspired several phalanxes. Besides working as an assertive take-me-back that doesn’t surrender an inch of dignity, the cover of Mexican ballad “Regalame Esta Noche” is an answer to every Spanish line in Black Francis song.

5. Pod (1990)

Don’t mistake its last place finish as dismissal. Beside the four other albums, Pod strikes me as uninhabited; given the space for her tunelets, Deal was still figuring out how much they could contain without stopping the track. And Tanya Donelly was an awkward fit: too gossamer, too concerned with narrative, however oblique, to mesh with Deal’s one-liners in search of robust figures. Give the Breeders this: when Donelly returned to Throwing Muses she brought an even sharper sense of concise pop craft (“Not Too Soon”) that, who knows, she may have learned from Deal. “Doe,” “When I Was a Painter,” and the Beatles cover stand beside their other achievements (I also like the one that goes “I like you/fortunately gone” — now that’s enjambment). Unlike other bands, your embracing Pod over the others won’t offend me.

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