Released: September 30th, 2022
Highlights: Nomatterday, Vault of Heaven, Haunted House, There’s a Moon On
With the release of “Doggerel”, the Pixies have officially put out as many albums in their second coming as they had done through their classic original run. Sure, purists may say the band is still one EP away from that threshold, as their debut, the remarkable “Come On Pilgrim”, was a twenty-minute eight-song recording that remains a cornerstone for all indie rock that is produced. Yet, the fact of the matter is that for every full-length work they created as independent heroes who toiled away in relative obscurity, there is now one album they built as veterans who joined forces again under the Pixies flag to bask in the well-deserved notoriety the band had gained since their abrupt breakup in 1993. At first, no fans whatsoever were mad about what seemed, initially, to be a victory lap; after all, everyone could happily agree the group should collect the laurels they did not get back when they were younger. However, when the matter of new material was brought into the equation, the atmosphere soured.
Some, including original bassist Kim Deal, thought the Pixies should not make anything new. Their discography, it was argued, was borderline perfect: a legacy that had to be protected. And given nobody had any hope the band could match their previous output, many thought they should just tour and go home. Others, meanwhile, were eager to listen with an open heart. That discussion, of course, does not matter. The Pixies will do whatever they – or more specifically their creative leader, Black Francis – want; and so, nearly a whopping twenty years after the group reunited, the cogs have continued to turn regardless of what some think. Kim Deal, who is an amazingly talented individual that greatly contributed to the Pixies’ signature sound, jumped ship before the band went into the studio to make “Indie Cindy”, which was their first package of new material in more than two decades. Following her footsteps, a few fans opted to either not pay attention or not put too much effort into trying to embrace the group’s second phase.
It is impossible to know how aware Black Francis is of naysayers or if he cares about that noise, but it is hard not to consider, even if only for a second, that the lines that open “Doggerel” might allude to these people. In “Nomatterday”, as his band opens the way to the album that will make the discography of their revival period as large as the one from the good-old days, the singer states “You know, I know that you don’t really hate me / But I suppose that I probably irritate you”, before asking listeners not to waste their time on him. Yes, he could be addressing a previous lover, a current affair with whom he is having a falling-out, or someone who is bitter towards him. However, besides being too good to be ignored, that possibility adds some swagger and a taste of wicked revenge to what is to come.
Such angry feelings, though, do not materialize all that much in “Doggerel”. Starting from “Indie Cindy”, it was clear that the new incarnation of the Pixies was more interested in melodic softness than their younger selves. Obviously, melody had always been there: Black Francis has proven, in the more than twenty albums he has released as a musical artist, that he knows how to write a catchy vocal line; and one of the many charms of the Pixies was their ability to combine unhinged punk noise, hellish screams, and a dark undercurrent with irresistible pop hooks. But as tunes like “Greens and Blues” and “Ring the Bell” proved, this was a band that now felt comfortable writing more straightforward indie rock. With the follow-ups, “Head Carrier” and “Beneath the Eyrie”, this tendency was accentuated, as melody seemed to be gaining more room in its battle against abrasive noise; and in the context of such struggle, “Doggerel” often feels like the culmination of that process.
It goes without saying that this can be seen as a bad trait. Rightfully, nobody wants to see the Pixies, in all their quirkiness and originality, shift towards the indie rock mean. And some will say “Doggerel” is too close to that line for comfort. Yet, doing so may be missing the subtleties that make the album special, because this is not a record in which the Pixies become boring conventional musicians; this is actually their work that most successfully bridges the gap between their identity and the general independent scene they helped birth. In other words, this feels less like a compromise and more like a middle-ground, one that they had been building towards. Because, yes, “Doggerel” is the mellowest and more melodic work to ever receive the Pixies stamp, producing plenty of moments that stick to one’s ear or reach for an unexpected level of pure beauty. But the musical staples of the group can be heard all over these tracks.
“Nomatterday” and “Dregs of the Wine” dive deep into quiet-and-loud dynamics; “Get Simulated” drinks from “Cactus” as well as “River Euphrates” to squeeze a quirky basic punk tune out of pure friction; and “Vault of Heaven” has a spacious ambiance that seems to have been taken straight from “Bossanova”, with Joey Santiago promptly filling that void with one of his remarkable alien riffs. But it is not just in the framework of the songs that the touch of the Pixies is present; that magic is in the little bricks that build these tunes. David Lovering remains a steady metronome that pulls off some sneaky surprises. Paz Lenchantin delivers a pile of fantastic simple bouncy bass lines that are frequently prominent in the mix, and her sweet backing vocals alternate between being dorky and enhancing the beauty of the softest melodic moments. Joey Santiago creates various marvelous textures and little catchy licks with his unique guitar-playing. And Black Francis often pulls out his acoustic guitar – as he did back in the “Come On Pilgrim” days – to add rhythmic chugging to many of the cuts.
Nevertheless, even if they are indeed still the Pixies, the band employs the fresh terrain on which they landed to build songs that could not really be anywhere else in their discography. “The Lord Has Come Back Today” is a bona fide gorgeous ballad that gains momentum as it goes along. Augmented by keyboards in their marvelous climaxes, “Haunted House”, “There’s a Moon On”, and “Who’s More Sorry Now?” boast arrangements with a fullness that was unknown to the band. And many of the songs, especially those who fall on the angrier and noisier side of the spectrum, run away from the standard verse-chorus structure, with the highlights on that front being “Nomatterday” and “Dregs of the Wine”, which almost feel like multi-phased little operas.
Not everything in “Doggerel” is perfect. As it happened on the previous three albums of the reunion era, the lyrics can feel somewhat awkward, as Black Francis seems to try to channel the weirdness he could summon with so much ease in the past only to fall flat. Additionally, “Get Simulated” lacks the hooks of its peers, “Pagan Man” is the point where the album bumps into conventionality, and “You’re Such a Sadducee” is instrumentally marvelous but melodically dry. Still, as a whole, the record is a thoroughly enjoyable and fun indie rock ride. And instead of getting lost in empty discussions about how it compares to the work of the band’s distant past, its quality should be celebrated for what it is: proof that the Pixies are alive, doing well, touring, collecting the laurels they earned, and respectably maintaining their creative juices flowing to keep on adding to one of the indie rock’s greatest discographies.