ALL NERVE by The Breeders
Genre: Alternative Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Nervous Mary,” “All Nerve,” “Walking with a Killer,” “Dawn: Making An Effort,” “Skinhead #2”
The Breeders are a better band than the Pixies. I think after 2014’s crushingly disappointing INDIE CINDY, that take became less hot than it might have been in in the ‘90s or 2000s, but have you heard LAST SPLASH recently? It’s a perfect album. And even 1990’s POD, a retrospectively revealing relic of the indie ‘90s sound EARLY in the decade, or their sporadic Steve Albini produced 2000s albums TITLE TK and MOUNTAIN BATTLES, have all aged tremendously, truly marvels of a frontwoman whose instinct for writing interesting and indefinable rock music is masterful. Their newest, ALL NERVE, does nothing to diminish Kim Deal’s legacy, and if anything, it further proves how essential her talent must have been to the Pixies magic.
Their first album in nine years, and their second with the same lineup that put out LAST SPLASH, ALL NERVE feels very much a product of the band’s pinnacle, both suffering and benefiting from how removed it is from the modern rock landscape. Revisiting the pair of Albini albums a decade later has revealed a band attempting to duck and weave in the polished 2000s and, all things considered, doing a good job making themselves feel fresh while still representing the grit and grime of a different era of alternative rock. ALL NERVE waves the ‘90s guitar sound proudly. Josephine Wigg’s bass is deep and bloodshot and Kim’s vocals hit that sweet spot between doubtful, proud, and the teensiest bit skeptical. Like the lineup would suggest, this feels like a proper follow up to LAST SPLASH in most senses, and its a good album even if it fails to capture lightning twice. Part of what makes ALL NERVE endearing, if a bit perplexing, is that it truly levels into the indifference it shows to the modern rock cannon. While TITLE TK and MOUNTAIN BATTLES worked, at least in part, because they removed themselves from what had come before amidst an unfamiliar era, ALL NERVE proudly proclaims itself as part of the indie rock sound Kim had helped build with the Pixies and, more directly, with POD.
Predating the slacker rock that closed out the ‘90s, like they did on their earliest albums and EPs, the mixing and songwriting can’t help but separate to reveal all the instrumentation. “Nervous Mary,” the fantastic yet somewhat questionable opener (over the obvious “Wait In The Car”), rousingly layers Kelly Deal and Wigg’s background vocals over Kim’s cynical Ohio drawl while the drums chug along; the rhythm section of “Skinhead #2” is punishing and heavy, with a bass sound so cutting it rips the fabric of the track right open. Like the singles forecasted, however, these songs don’t necessarily strike the very delicate pop chord that made LAST SPLASH (even removing “Cannonball”) so memorable. There’s real effort made to make these songs feel short, small, and in their own way, pleasant. The line between early rock or doo-wop and slow jamming choral pieces, like “Dawn: Making an Effort” or the title track, is as fuzzy as the band’s guitar solos, and those tracks are genuinely the best on the album. But while the songs on ALL NERVE can be fun (hearing Kim yell “Good Morning!” on “Wait in the Car” is truly a delight), and the band’s fuck-all attitude towards sounding like their vintage selves never eludes these songs entirely, it still never all gels together and kind of quickly fades from memory, a critique that exists outside of quality and could validly extend to all of their 2000s releases.
ALL NERVE is just an 11-song album of three-minute songs that transforms to something agreeable and dextrous. While the whole thing never totally builds into total greatness, you’d be hard pressed to find another release this year that plainly presents this many rock songs that are, all things considered, really good. Even though it feels slightly out of place in 2018, and pales in comparison to the prestige work of their heyday, its a solid effort by one of the all time underrated ‘90s icons.