Available on: Pixies Music
Indie Cindy, Pixies’ first album in 23 years, too often recalls its lacklustre predecessor Trompe Le Monde. With the alt-greats’ once revelatory formula yielding diminishing returns, and Black’s genius for inverting rock conventions waning, on Trompe Le Monde – the album we thought would be the group’s last – Pixies sought refuge in the very style they set out to subvert: classic rock. Over two decades later, history repeats itself.
Hobbled from the off, you sense, by the early departure of Kim Deal – the one Pixie whose inclusion might have steered the album away from regularity – while suffering from a severe case of reunion-inspiration-deficit, on Indie Cindy Frank and co once again take to mining trad-rock for inspiration. Once upon a time Pixies could generate intensity, tension, kinetic energy and an electric sense of impending doom using only their revolutionary take on rock dynamics (the renowned but misunderstood ‘loudquietloud’ model). With this deftness now beyond them, they overcompensate with sheer din.
Were this Surfer Rosa-to-Bossanova-era Pixies, the likes of ‘Bagboy’ would probably have sounded totally different. You sense there’s an ‘Into The White’-style track in there somewhere – one of those austere Deal-ian tunes where raging chaos arrived only after extended periods of minimalism. But as this is Indie Cindy, where space and nuance are apparently no longer of concern to Black, structural wit is replaced by repetition, grunting clamour and overstuffed arrangements. ‘Another Toe In The Ocean’ is the type of crap soft-rock vacuum Weezer repackage in scare quotes and call clever, while ‘Snakes’ may just be the weakest Pixies track of all time – a flat, non-specific, flavourless trifle that sounds like R.E.M at their most dry.
Bland, blustery and thoroughly workmanlike, ‘Blue Eyed Hex’ could have been written by any number of blues rock also-rans from the last 40 years, while simultaneously sounding like a horrible college rock version of AC/DC. It’s so very conservative, as well as being absolutely drained of Pixies’ freak sensibility. Another essential component of that sensibility was Joey Santiago, who is here almost invisible, his role on Indie Cindy consisting mainly of padding where before he would scrape at a song, acting as a lysergic foil to Deal’s steady 4/4 bass parts, wringing new meanings from Black’s pop, and cutting against Deal’s girlish sweetness.
But all told, a mediocre Pixies album still makes for a strong alt-rock album. ‘Ring The Bell’ and ‘Greens and Blues’ are sincere and romantic, a reminder that Pixies had a unique ability to play the role of arch postmodernists at the same time as doing pop with a complete lack of irony. At the same time as subverting all-American earnestness they were also paying tribute to it, and for all their alt credentials, the Bostonians were every bit as in love with shiny Americanism as the decade’s mainstream nostalgics. Black was a major fan of The Cars, after all.
The beastly ‘What Goes Boom’ – arguably the heaviest three minutes in the band’s career – is a fine rocker: a screaming contradiction of severe psychedelia and melodic cuteness too bizarre to be rawk-macho, too deformed to be triumphalist and too abstract to be aggressive. Meanwhile, on the penultimate ‘Andro Queen’ they almost sound like the Pixies of old, probably due to it being the only track left bare, stripped back and free of inconsequential noise. A piscine surf-rock ballad about sci-fi and mythical love that’s as strange as it is sad, it’s very much in the same vein as classic Pixies tracks ‘Bird Dream Of The Olympus Mons’ and ‘Wave Of Mutilation’.
But it’s uncanny how Indie Cindy can be so quintessentially Pixies (surf-rock, Tex-Mex, bible belt sin – all the old reference points are present and correct, almost to the point of parody) yet at the same time be so utterly devoid of the band’s original magic. While it feels deeply wrong to describe anything produced by such an unordinary act as ‘solid’, Indie Cindy is nevertheless about as solid as they come. It’s comfortingly familiar, consistent and enjoyable, as well as totally uninspired. In other words, Indie Cindy plays just like one of Black’s solo efforts, but with better session players: good, yes, but never great.