Pixies – “Indie Cindy”


(Photo Credit: http://www.juno.co.uk)

Grade: D

Key Tracks: “Bagboy” “Magdalena 318”

Surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear recently played at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction with some rotating singers – Joan Jett, St. Vincent, Kim Gordon and, unpredictably, Lorde (and J. Mascis in an afterparty). It was only the third time they had performed together after Kurt Cobain’s death, the first two times being with Sir Paul McCartney. In that time, they only recorded one new song (with Sir Paul). The men have been very careful not to alter the band’s legacy in any way, and the only performances have honored both their own music and Cobain’s life.

Pixies, sadly, have gone the way of almost every other early 90′s band – Alice in Chains, Sublime, Smashing Pumpkins, Bush, Hole, Blind Melon – in reforming with a different lineup in a move that seems just shamelessly capitalistic. (Exceptions, of course – Soundgarden kept the same lineup, Pearl Jam and Radiohead are still going strong). Their first album in 23 years, “Indie Cindy” captures almost none of their perverse magic of the past. While it isn’t a horrendous album, it’s wildly, wildly inconsistent and is usually content being just a footnote to the band’s career rather than trying to expand on it.

There’s a lot to pick apart on the album. The most obvious, and most painful thing to note is that none of these 12 songs are necessarily new. Pixies released three EP’s, four songs each, from the end of last year to just last month. “Indie Cindy” is simply those 12 songs put together and reordered. At the tail end of an era where bands are reforming in the name of capitalism, this seems like the biggest moneygrab of them all.

For the most part, the music itself isn’t bad. It just isn’t Pixies. Pixies made a name for themselves (and influenced a whole decade of music that followed them) by creating wholly unpredictable music that was both melodic and noisy, with lyrics often about violence and mutilation. Yet there was a radio-friendly quality to the music that bridged the gap between radio alternative and underground bands. Here, most of the songs are closer to straight radio rock, ranging anywhere from decent to totally forgettable.

The album’s best songs are the ones were there are many things going on. “Bagboy” is a prime example – it’s partially spoken word, with heavy guitar rhythms and a few different percussion things going on. And “Magdalena 318,” which has a more industrial and grungier feel to it, easily the album’s best song. Too many of the songs are too straightforward, lacking energy and any real creativity. “Greens and Blues,” “Silver Snails” and “Snakes,” as just three examples, are three melodic and rounded alternative songs, but ones that are instantly forgettable. The good tracks on this album are diamonds in the rough, and there’s a lot of sifting to go through.

Besides the music, Black Francis’ vocals are inconsistent, too. There’s none of the screaming and unpredictability, but he hits some classic Pixies vocals – at points. On “Magdalena 318″ and “Blue Eyed Hexe,” his voice sounds just like it used to. Yet elsewhere his vocals are pretty average, contributing to the very average quality of the music. And on “Andro Queen,” his vocals are downright bad, with the song sounding like some cut track from a trippy 60′s band.

From the time that the Pixies first reunited to the time they actually put out “Indie Cindy,” two things happened – they lost Kim Deal, the equally creative force behind their earlier music (and have yet to find a permanent replacement), and they surpassed the amount of time in which they were a band in their first run. That should be indicative of the album – the time it took to put out one album in 2014 is longer than the time it took them to put out four studio albums and an EP in the early 90′s. “Indie Cindy” is passable as an alternative album, but it never has any idea what it wants to be. Occasionally, the band tries to grasp at their amazing legacy. But usually, they’re comfortable with sorely unremarkable alternative/”butt-rock” songs, and there’s simply no reason for this album to exist. It takes their legacy down a notch; adds an asterisk onto the ends of some legendary albums. “Indie Cindy,” to put it honestly, will please the local alternative radio DJ’s, but not the station’s listeners.

If you like this, try: I don’t exactly know what to recommend here, but if you’re into this album then you’re probably really into 90’s music rebirthed so I’d recommend Soundgarden’s surprisingly passable 2012 album “King Animal” or Smashing Pumpkins’ great 2007 album “Zeitgeist.”

-By Andrew McNally

Frank Black – “Oddballs”

(Photo Credit: Amazon)

Grade: C

Key Tracks: “Pray a Little Faster,” “Man of Steel”

“Oddballs” was originally released in 2000, but only online and was not widely publicized. For whatever reason, he chose to release it in CD form thirteen years later. It seems like an odd choice, given that the Pixies just released a new single, but maybe that’s the exact reason – it might be more publicized if people are searching for new Pixies music. “Oddballs” might be stumbled across, giving it the attention it never got. That said, it is just a compilation of music Black recorded that were B-sides or didn’t make it on other albums. B-side compilations are, traditionally, boring and pretty useless. “Oddballs” is better than most, but still falls to some subpar tracks and ideas that should not have been acted upon.

The songs on the album were recorded between 1994 and 1997, the three years after the Pixies’ initial break-up. The songs, on the whole, maintain the intensity of the music of his former band, while distinctly sounding like a solo artist. There is no screaming and wailing, no Kim Deal on bass and no lyrics about bodily mutilation, separating it from the Pixies. It just often maintains the speed and volume of the Pixies’ albums.

Lyrically, it is far less interesting than Black’s former (and present) band. One of the two best tracks, “Pray a Little Faster” is darkly entertaining, but other tracks with titles like “Can I Get a Witness” and “Everybody Got the Beat” approach the exact, oft-extracted ideas that the titles sound like. Black’s attempts to separate his solo work and be seen as a viable solo artist are beneficial, but tracks like the ones on “Oddballs” do make the listener yonder for classic Pixies songs instead.

Something should be said for the album’s surprising flow. Given that it is a compilation, there is no expectation of it working as an actual album, just a collection of misplaced tracks. But Black structures it so it flows and never stays on one idea for too long. The opener (the aforementioned “Pray”) kicks off with a bang, that is sustained until the album’s midpoint, the only two songs over four minutes mix things up. The album’s closer and other best song, “Man of Steel” works perfectly as an outro, with a bombastic repeating coda. The song was likely written as a closing song that never found it’s place.

“Oddballs” is better than most rarities collections, but it is still barely good enough to stand on it’s own legs. It separates Black from the Pixies, but the album’s imperfections remind listeners of just how perfect the latter really was. Black’s “Oddballs” more often than not sounds a little too traditional and most of the ideas are not fleshed out enough. “Oddballs” should please die-hard Black fans, and likely only them.

If you like this, try: If you’re into rarities, check out “Little Johnny Jewel” and “Untitled Instrumental,” two songs that got cut from Television’s legendary “Marquee Moon” and are just as good as every song on the album.

-By Andrew McNally